January 24, 2009

"I am alive" — a literary sentence in the comments to the bookstore thread — tells a harrowing real-life story.

We were in the middle of talking about the emptiness of the emporium, when Zachary Paul Sire wrote:
Off topic, but thought you all should know: I am alive.
Poor Zachary had a ruptured spleen, and in valiant, bloggerly style, blogged it, with photos of himself — in a hospital gown — taken at arm's length. Perhaps the blogosphere is full of photo-essays showing the details of emergency rooms, not to mention accident scenes — wounds and all. (Point to some!)

I once posted "I just wrecked my car!" — and, though I blogged about how, almost immediately, I thought about blogging the accident, I did not get out my camera to get the photos. (Later, at the wrecker's, I got the photos.) So I admire Zachary's presence of mind in taking those photos, especially since he was in pain — though presumably he was also bored and, unlike me at the car crash, not in the presence of victims, police, and EMTs who would have thought ill of me if I'd displayed a hearty bloggerly spirit. (In case you're wondering why my readers didn't seem to give a damn back then, I didn't have commenting turned on.)

Anyway, I love Zachary's intrusion into the late night thread to tell us about his situation. When you go to comment on my blog, you can see that part of the instructions for commenting are: "You can digress, but digress creatively. Amuse us!" So OT was OK. And maybe I should rethink "amuse." Another reason to rethink "amuse" is that people — probably remembering Queen Victoria's most famous quote "We are not amused" — think I'm using the royal "we." I'm not. And actually, neither was Victoria. But speaking of memorable lines... I love "I am alive." It's one of those very short sentences that feel entirely literary.

Is it a famous quote? I Google and see it's at least a video game.

But it has the feeling of something old, something I read long ago. Is it the last line of Daniel DeFoe's "A Journal of the Plague Year"? The e-text is on-line. So:
A dreadful plague in London was
In the year sixty-five,
Which swept an hundred thousand souls
Away; yet I alive!
Yet I alive! I love that.

Is it "Moby Dick"?
The drama's done. Why then here does any one step forth?—Because one did survive the wreck.

... So, floating on the margin of the ensuing scene, and in full sight of it, when the halfspent suction of the sunk ship reached me, I was then, but slowly, drawn towards the closing vortex. When I reached it, it had subsided to a creamy pool. Round and round, then, and ever contracting towards the button-like black bubble at the axis of that slowly wheeling circle, like another Ixion I did revolve. Till, gaining that vital centre, the black bubble upward burst; and now, liberated by reason of its cunning spring, and, owing to its great buoyancy, rising with great force, the coffin life-buoy shot lengthwise from the sea, fell over, and floated by my side. Buoyed up by that coffin, for almost one whole day and night, I floated on a soft and dirgelike main.
Perhaps you can help me find "I am alive" (and things close to it) in literary — or cinematic or video-game-ic — works of art. Don't talk about statements in the third person. The first-person statement is the interesting thing here. If you are not alive, you are in no position to comment. By the same token, to say anything is to say "I'm alive." What prompts the always-true words "I am alive" is the consciousness that you might not have been able to say it (or anything else). While it is always within our mental grasp to be suddenly intensely impressed by the vivid fact of being alive, we don't — we could! — say it out loud or write it down... in the comments section of someone else's blog.

Or, no, there is a second reason to say "I am alive." You might need to cry out to someone who thinks you are dead. DeFoe tells of a piper, who went door to door for food and drink "and he in return would pipe and sing and talk simply." But times were hard, and he'd nearly starved, "and when anybody asked how he did he would answer, the dead cart had not taken him yet, but that they had promised to call for him next week." One night, he'd finally gotten some drink, and he was lying drunk in a doorway where the people inside "hearing a bell which they always rang before the cart came, had laid a body really dead of the plague just by him, thinking, too, that this poor fellow had been a dead body, as the other was, and laid there by some of the neighbours." A man named John Hayward loaded both bodies onto the cart:
From hence they passed along and took in other dead bodies, till... they almost buried him alive in the cart; yet all this while he slept soundly. At length the cart came to the place where the bodies were to be thrown into the ground, which, as I do remember, was at Mount Mill; and as the cart usually stopped some time before they were ready to shoot out the melancholy load they had in it, as soon as the cart stopped the fellow awaked and struggled a little to get his head out from among the dead bodies, when, raising himself up in the cart, he called out, 'Hey! where am I?' This frighted the fellow that attended about the work; but after some pause John Hayward, recovering himself, said, 'Lord, bless us! There's somebody in the cart not quite dead!' So another called to him and said, 'Who are you?' The fellow answered, 'I am the poor piper. Where am I?' 'Where are you?' says Hayward. 'Why, you are in the dead-cart, and we are going to bury you.' 'But I an't dead though, am I?' says the piper, which made them laugh a little though, as John said, they were heartily frighted at first; so they helped the poor fellow down, and he went about his business.
But I an't dead though, am I? It's a terrifying question to have to ask, but, thank God, the answer is always "yes."

51 comments:

john said...

And a hundred thousand slimy things lived on, and so did I.

You spurned Coleridge for that dour Yank?

traditionalguy said...

"I am the living one, I was dead but behold I am alive for ever and ever..." said an earlier model of the Messiah in Rev. 1:18. Another book to look in would be Schindler's List, but I only have Spielberg's movie. The everyday joy of Still Being Alive is an interesting subject to cogitate on today when all of the WW2 and Korean (Chosin Resevoir) Marine survivors are dying peacefully in their sleep.

john said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
john said...

And this too:

DEAD PERSON: I'm not dead!
CART MASTER: 'Ere. He says he's not dead!
CUSTOMER: Yes, he is.
DEAD PERSON: I'm not!
CART MASTER: He isn't?
CUSTOMER: Well, he will be soon. He's very ill.
DEAD PERSON: I'm getting better!
CUSTOMER: No, you're not. You'll be stone dead in a moment.
CART MASTER: Oh, I can't take him like that. It's against regulations.
DEAD PERSON: I don't want to go on the cart!
CUSTOMER: Oh, don't be such a baby.

EDH said...

While I'm certain it's about life after Daryl Hannah, Jackson Browne's I’m Alive.

It's been a long time since I watched these lights alone
I look around my life tonight and you are gone
I might have done something to keep you if I'd known
How unhappy you had become

While I was dreaming of you
With my heart in your hands
And I was following though
With my beautiful plans

Yeah now I'm rolling down this canyon drive
With your laughter in my head
I'm gonna have to block it out somehow to survive
'cause those dreams are dead
And I'm alive

Zachary Paul Sire said...

You know, if it weren't for the premise of being able to blog about it later, the whole experience would have been a million times worse. I was having a major panic attack right after the doc told me my spleen ruptured (and then promptly left the room to go check on someone else)...I was able to relax when I started laughing, taking pictures of myself, hoping and knowing that I would have something interesting to blog about later on. I couldn't die yet!

Thanks again for letting me share.

Meade said...

Well done, john.

I think "not dead yet" beats even "I am alive." It adds an edge.

sonicfrog said...

Ruptured Spleen. Jeez, the things some people will do to get attention in the blogosphere!

Bob said...

How about the Jesus version of Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive?

chuck b. said...

For me, "I am alive", put this way, immediately recalled Touching the Void, which I feel certain you blogged about but can't find with "search blog" after trying not very hard.

Meade said...

Zachary Angel

Ignacio said...

narcissistic exhibitionism. sometimes (often? always?) there's more dignity and grace in keeping your mouth shut.

but as tom wolfe said: "let's talk about ME!"

EDH said...

Or, no, there is a second reason to say "I am alive." You might need to cry out to someone who thinks you are dead.

Interestingly, recounting in court someone else's statement that "I'm alive" is not hearsay under the rules of evidence if it's offered to show that the person was alive to say it, so long as the testimony is not offered to assert the truth of the statement "I'm alive."

Palladian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bob R said...

Sir Archy is overdue.

Palladian said...

How could you forget Emily Dickinson's 470:

I am alive — I guess —
The Branches on my Hand
Are full of Morning Glory —
And at my finger's end —

The Carmine — tingles warm —
And if I hold a Glass
Across my Mouth — it blurs it —
Physician's — proof of Breath —

I am alive — because
I am not in a Room —
The Parlor — Commonly — it is —
So Visitors may come —

And lean — and view it sidewise —
And add "How cold — it grew" —
And "Was it conscious — when it stepped
In Immortality?"

I am alive — because
I do not own a House —
Entitled to myself — precise —
And fitting no one else —

And marked my Girlhood's name —
So Visitors may know
Which Door is mine — and not

Ann Althouse said...

@chuck b The only post were I talk about "Touching the Void" is this one, which is mostly about "Into the Wild." I think I bring it up in the comments a lot. It's one of my favorite movies, and I'm always recommending it to people.

Ann Althouse said...

were = where

Jennifer said...

...the report of my death was an exaggeration.

Sorry to hear of your crisis, ZPS, but glad you are doing well!

Jennifer said...

Touching the Void is a great movie. In the special features, the tape of one of the gentleman in the middle of a reenactment and suddenly unsure of whether he was truly back on the mountain or just hallucinating in the midst of the original crisis was so powerful.

EnigmatiCore said...

Yesterday I would not have believed
That tomorrow the sun would shine
Then one day you came into my life
I am alive again I am alive again

All the empty yesterdays have disappeared
Now that you have filled my life with love
No one else could ever mean so much to me
Every day my high lasts longer
As our love grows ever stronger

Yesterday I would not have believed
That tomorrow the sun would shine
Then one day you came into my life
I am alive again I am alive again

When you gave your love to me you changed my life
Dreams that once seemd hopeless come with ease
Thank you girl for being just the way you are
I would never try to change you
All I live for is to love you
Im feeling alive again
Im feeling alive again

Host with the Most said...

Celine Dion sang "I'm alive".

Zachary, glad you're okay.

And as to your comment about no food or water before surgery - I've had that experience (awaiting an appendectomy)and I feel your pain. I would have paid $100 for a cheeseburger if someone could have smuggled one in.

Ralph said...

It sounds like the opening sentence of the book Melanie Wilkes read aloud the night Frank Kennedy was killed and Ashley wounded in GWTW: "I am born."
Was that David Copperfield?

chuck b. said...

It's an incredible movie. It relays an experience wholly unique in the history of man.

I flat out refuse to accept that that's the only time you mentioned that movie.

I remember you blogged about that movie just a day or two after I talked about it with someone else (and I saw the movie in the theater a year before) so it was very memorable to have it come up twice in conversation in a very short period of time like that.

The point you made was something I had not thought of--that even though you knew the outcome (they survived) you were nonetheless in complete suspense.

bill said...

I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death. - Book of Revelations

James said...

Of course, there's: Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated -- Mark Twain

bill said...

Dante's Inferno, Canto 32:


"Who are you who stroll through Antenora
Kicking the cheeks of others?" he responded,
"Were you alive, I wouldn’t take that from you!"

"I am alive, and it may be worth your effort,
Should you seek fame, that I would now note down
Your name with the others." This was my reply.

**********
Translations differ. Project Gutenberg uses Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

"Now who art thou, that goest through Antenora
Smiting," replied he, "other people's cheeks,
So that, if thou wert living, 'twere too much?"

"Living I am, and dear to thee it may be,"
Was my response, "if thou demandest fame,
That 'mid the other notes thy name I place."

1jpb said...

Good to know Zach, like the original Wall-E, a.k.a Johnny 5, is alive.

Will Zach also become a patched up, crime fighting hero?" Time will tell.

vbspurs said...

Since others have posted with Coleridge, and Dickinson, and all manner of beautiful sentiment about our Zach's predictment, I am left with having to bring out the real artillery.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Gallows humour is so emotionally releasing, isn't it?

GET BETTER, ZACH!!

Cheers,
Victoria

traditionalguy said...

The physical death experience is close to us all the time. The death by being Imprisoned in poverty,or in a bad marriage, or in a mind controlled situation such as a college, a political orthodoxy, or a re-education camp is what really scares me more than fear of physical death.

Lem said...

I Shouldn't Be Alive had some "harrowing real-life stories".

Maxine Weiss said...

I guess, what we aren't supposed to talk about is that fact that smoking does a number on both the appendix and the spleen.

Delete delete delete.

We mustn't judge smokers and their self-inficted ailments brought about by their own injurious behavior, and the innocent victims who've never smoked a day in their lives, and just happened to have a medical misfortune.

john said...

Victoria - what am I, chopped liver?

Zachary Paul Sire said...

Hey Maxine, I quit smoking. And smoking does not cause spleen ruptures, by the way.

Tibore said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tibore said...

Whoops. Re-post:

Damn, Z, I didn't expect to read this. Take care of yourself, okay?

chuck b. said...

"I quit smoking."

Did you pay for those shoes?

Maxine Weiss said...

"I quit smoking."

Of course nobody ever has to pay the Piper for past sins.

The ones who quit are always much more praiseworthy than the ones who never started in the first place.

Zach said...

John Donne takes the opposite track:

Now this bell tolling softly for another, says to me, Thou must die.

Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me and see my state may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.

Maxine Weiss said...

There is no such thing as "spontaneous bleeding". There's always a reason. Smoking, (even past use), alcohol, caffeine (especially caffeine-which dangerously speeds the blood, as does aspirin)....

People that get nosebleeds and think it's just a random occurrance. It's not.

Doctors would rather tell you it's "spontaneous" than indict you with your bad health habits (past and present) and drug abuse. What

Hoag is absolutely not the very best hospital in the Country. Not by a long shot. But, it's better than Long Beach Memorial.

What doctor is going to tell you it's your own fault ? That's malpractic.

Paddy O. said...

ZPS, glad you had a happy ending to the blog post.

And congrats on pursuing a great method of distraction with the blog posts. Nice focus, and it seemed like it really helped.

Original George said...

And, behold, there came a great wind from the wilderness, and smote the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young men, and they are dead; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.

Job 1:19

I will survive.

I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

Ann Althouse said...

"I flat out refuse to accept that that's the only time you mentioned that movie."

Me too. It's just the only time it came up in a search for the title. I could have referred to it in some other way (like with a link) and it wouldn't catch stuff I wrote in the comments. I feel as though I talk about it all the time.

Let me Google...

Ah! Here! That's front page, but without the title mentioned.

And here's something in comments.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

There was a rustle in the gallery, which nobody noticed; a moment later the church door creaked; the minister raised his streaming eyes above his handkerchief, and stood transfixed! First one and then another pair of eyes followed the minister's, and then almost with one impulse the congregation rose and stared while the three dead boys came marching up the aisle, Tom in the lead, Joe next, and Huck, a ruin of drooping rags, sneaking sheepishly in the rear! They had been hid in the unused gallery listening to their own funeral sermon!

fcai said...

Is "an't" short for cockroach?

Sofa King said...

This was a triumph. I'm making a note here: "HUGE SUCCESS"

Palladian said...

"caffeine (especially caffeine-which dangerously speeds the blood, as does aspirin)...."

lol. "Speeds the blood" eh? I see that M----e is as much a brainless twat when it comes to medicine and science as she about everything else.

blake said...

Palladian: "Ah, can't get a good sasparilla like this back in Springfield. It angries up the blood."

Sofa King mentioned "I'm Still Alive" which was the first thing that came to my mind.

Then there's "Don't let them bury me. I'm not dead." From Wes Craven's Serpent and the Rainbow.

How about, "I live...again" from Army of Darkness?

fivewheels said...
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jeff said...

"Hey Maxine, I quit smoking. And smoking does not cause spleen ruptures, by the way."

Hey, she is just sanctimoniously judging you. No biggy. Plus there is no telling just how dangerously fast your blood might have been speeding. Did you go thru a school zone on the way to the hospital with dangerous speeding blood? Hmmm?

rhhardin said...

``I am alive'' turns up all over in Derrida, for which google both.

I remember it connected to Blanchot's ``Madness of the Day.''

Two takes I remember:

It's the others that disappear at your death; and the statement survives the author but not the reader.

So it harbors a handy paradox to be fished out.