In three days I will undergo open heart surgery. My insurance company calls it elective surgery, even though my doctors assure me that I will be dead within two years without it. This, to my mind, contradicts the classification of 'elective,' since I have, in effect, no choice in the matter. But that is for another discussion.
The prospect of this surgery, which has haunted me and kept me awake every night for weeks and ruined the quality of my life, looms before me like death itself. And like death, its imminence forces me to consider many things about myself, and to realize many others. I think I now understand what people have meant when they say that, at the moment of death, your entire life flashes before your eyes. The fact is that, faced with something like heart surgery, or death, your life is thrown into relief, and you are, how shall I say, invited to understand certain truths about yourself.
Among those is the fact that I feel completely alone, indeed, that I have felt alone and isolated for most of my life. But this surgery is driving me in the direction of solitude in a way that almost nothing before has done. Loneliness is my instinct, my fundamental sense of myself, and, because of that, it has become my desire, whether I like it or not.
Now, I understand the reason for this attitude (it has to do with events that occurred in my childhood), but I find myself helpless to do anything about it, so ingrained is it in my psyche. I rebuff the rare attempt that is made to broach it, and cling to it like life itself, for, indeed, it is the only way of life I have known. In the screenplay for 'Copying Beethoven,' I had Beethoven say, 'Loneliness is my religion.' I realize now that it was I who was talking.
But as a religion loneliness is a poor substitute for faith. There is no one to share it with, and no consolation to be had, which religion ought to offer, I suppose. But I was born into and raised in a phony religion (Roman Catholicism) which taught lies and imposed its iron, abusive will even on children. And so I learned very early on that religion is nothing but a conspiracy of lies aimed at the most innocent and vulnerable among us. I rejected this confabulation of deceit instinctively at the age of sixteen or seventeen, and have not often looked back (though some would say that I have never done anything but look back, and that may be true). But to replace, it, which I think everyone who rejects the religion of his youth must do, I have found little or nothing.
And so I go to this operation feeling isolated and without faith, and, because of that, without much hope. I have fought hard to live my life in terms of certain principles, and I now find that the doctors insist (and everyone else whom I know insists) I must abandon those very principles which have made it possible for me to live in order to prolong my life. Among them are an insistence on retaining control over my circumstances, never becoming passive or submitting myself to the control of strangers, never putting myself in a position where I have no options, retaining my physical integrity, and insisting on my dignity. This surgery will strip me of all of this: I will put myself into the hands of strangers (who have made it clear they don't know or care who I am), I will be utterly helpless (indeed, unconscious), my body will be violated and my dignity reduced to a shambles.
And all this, as I say, in order to prolong my life. Yet of what value is longevity when it is purchased at the price of dignity? How can the length of life compare to the quality of life? Why would one want to go on living if one's integrity has been sacrificed in the process? How can you live having abandoned your principles? These, and other questions, no one has answered for me, since no one has expressed any interest in hearing me ask them.
And so, when, and if, I awaken from the anesthetic after the surgery is over, who will I be? Not the same person as I was before I went under. That much I know. But who I will then be, and whether I will want to live as that person I cannot tell. And so, on some deep level of my being, I earnestly hope I do not awaken at all. Sleep is better than self-betrayal; death is preferable to self-deceit.