I'm afraid of snakes. I'm afraid of spiders. I fear the death of my loved ones, but not really my own. I guess that's just because it's hard to wrap my mind around my own mortality. I've read scary books since I was a small boy, vampires, werewolves and all the rest have been companions of mine for a while, so the boogeyman (and all his henchmen) doesn't frighten me. But I recently re-read a book that terrifies me. "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes. Most of you have probably heard of it, it's one that is often assigned in some form in American Literature in High School or College. Originally published as a short story, it was turned into a television movie, then a novel, then a major motion picture. It tells the story of Charlie Gordon, a mentally handicapped man who undergoes an experiment to increase his intelligence. The experiment works, and Charlie becomes a genius, but the effects may not be permanent. In fact since it is an experiment, the scientists don't know if Charlie will even return to his normal level of intelligence or regress further. It's written in the form of a diary, as Charlie takes down his thoughts and feelings on the entire process. And it's the most frightening thing I've ever read.Intelligence is something I pride myself on. I've always been smart, and as a kid that sort of torments you. I thought about things at a much younger age than I think other people do. When I was six and seven years old, I would lie in bed at night contemplating eternity, and the chances that everyone I loved would spend it on the same side as me. That's big stuff for six or seven. I questioned the nature of God, and the plan of salvation, while my friends were still watching Saturday morning cartoons. Being smart is a good thing, though. It helped me in school, it helped me make friends, it sent me to College, and now it's helping me write these blogs. "Flowers for Algernon" frightens me, because it describes the one manner of death that I tremble at, senility. As you read Charlie's diary entry you watch him, correct his spelling, start using complex sentence structure, increase his vocabulary, attack difficult concepts and ideas. And then you watch it all go away. You hear him describe what it feels like to lose his mind. That's what I'm scared of. My father's mother died some years ago, and until the last few years she had been a vital woman. But in the last years (and especially the last months) she would lose all concept of time, and her place in it. She'd confuse me for her son, introducing my mother and I to the nurse one day as husband and wife. I had been around Alzheimer's patients before, so this wasn't the first time, I felt it's effects, but it was the first time I wondered if she knew what was happening. Could she see us through a fog, saying one name, but knowing that wasn't right? Did she talk about her husband, as if he wasn't dead, but then think to herself, "Twenty years have gone by?" Alzheimer's (like Cancer) is a disease we have to thank science for. Not that science created it, but by eliminating other (earlier) ways for human kind to die, science has enabled us to die of Cancer and degenerative diseases. Science is proud and doesn't like to fail, so I have no doubt that somewhere, right now, some brilliant man that fears losing his mind as much as I do is working feverishly on a cure...or a stop-gap...something. Less of my generation will die of these diseases than of my parents' generation. Less of theirs will die of these diseases than their parents' generation. Progress continues. But the thought that keeps me up at night, the thought that makes me write almost 100 blogs in less than six months, is "How long do you have the ability? How long until you watch it slip away?" And so in the words of Dylan Thomas, Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night. Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night. Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.