Tag: purpose

The Things That Time Steals

(An essay reflecting on the losses of things through time.)

There are no machines hooked up; no devices beeping in a periodic rhythm sustaining life. The room is sterile, as in “not productive of youth,” but the collection of dirt built up in the corners of the room do not suggest sterility, as in “germ free and clean.” I crinkle my nose slightly, in disgust, at the run-down, very aged hospital room.

“What’s a matter?”

My nose uncrinkles at the run-down, very aged looking countenance of my fifty-two year old dad staking claim on the only bed in this tiny room. A smile is my response to his question, not quite reaching my eyes, and a slight shake of my head accompanies the half-hearted smile. I haven’t cried yet, and I’m not going to, because crying would mean admitting- would mean accepting- and I much prefer burying my head in the sand; “If I can’t see you, then you can’t see me” kind of approach to unpleasant things I don’t want to deal with.

“Am I dying?” He asks this question, but there is no fear in the question, no quake to his voice, in spite of knowing the answer already. Fearless.

I huff, rolling my eyes to stunt the growing, burning pain of the buildup of tears pricking the corners of my eyes. With a shake of my head I swallow the lump of bile that feels like it’s blocking my airflow, and keeping my eyes averted from him, I stare blankly at an “unsterile” spot on the wall. Dad’s eyes are closed, but I know he is not asleep. We listen to each others’ breaths for several minutes.

“I just…” I break the lullaby of our mixed breathing. “I just wish there was more time.”

Dad’s eyes stay closed, but he responds with strained words. “The more time there is,” he takes a slow, strained breath, “the more things are stolen from us.”

I don’t have anything productive to add to the conversation, so I just don’t. After a few minutes more, the side of his face relaxes against his shoulder, his breathing evens out, and I know he has fallen asleep. Sitting virtually alone, my thoughts become screams and echo in the silence of the room as I consider the things that time steals.

First love

“Look,” my dad had said on a long, low sigh, trying not to let his frustration with my teenage irrationality get the best of his compassion for my situation. “I know this is rough on ya, kid, but it’s only for six months, then you’ll turn eighteen and can go your own way if ya want, but for right now, I am still responsible for you, so where I go, you go.”

I sniffled, snorted through my nose, and swiped at my tear-stained cheeks with the back of my hand, never daring to turn my eyes from the nothing out the window I stared at as he drove. I had been petitioning for weeks to be left behind while the rest of my family moved across the country, but all I kept being told was some rendition of, “You’re my kid. Where I go, you go.” I was sick to death of hearing it.

“If he loves you, he’ll surely wait six months for you to come back,” my dad spoke of my high school sweetheart. “And if you don’t come back, then he’ll fight for ya. And if he don’t, and you don’t, well, then… there’s that,” and he shrugged, as though that was just the cut-and-dried of it.

I was angry, and I resented my parents for having so much dictation over my life; to have the power to completely uproot my existence when I was within months of being legally my own person. All I needed was time… six months of time, to be precise.

I got those six months, but I did not get them in the space of the place I thought I should get them in, and when those six months turned into a year with new responsibilities, new people, and new experiences, I never quite made it back to the place I started from. I didn’t make it back, he didn’t wait, nor did he fight for me, and that was just that.

“This is life,” my dad had said; a reminder that it was quite the norm for nothing to end as expected. An unavoidable matter-of-fact that Time steals expectations, mangling our hopes, remolding them into other dreams, and instilling within us an infinite supply of out-of-the-blue guilt, wonder-ifs, and remorse. A reminder that, just when we think we can make our way back, we can never go back.

Ignorance

“Remember when you wore that shirt to school that had a rainbow on it, and you came home from school that afternoon mad as an ole hornet because some girl teased you about being a lesbian even though you aren’t a lesbian, but the part you were so mad about was because if you had been a lesbian they’d have been bullying you and that was just not acceptable?”

I had remembered, so I said so. “Yeah, and you told me, ‘Never let ‘em see ya cry.’”

On the other end of the phone I couldn’t see my dad nod his head, but I knew by the pause in his response that that was exactly what he was doing. Then he chuckled. “Yeah, I said that. Your ole dad’s pretty smart, ya know,” he congratulated himself.

I grinned into the phone, “Yeah, you are, I guess. What’s that have to do with the price of eggs?”

At being reminded about the start of the conversation, he had continued. “Oh yeah! Well,” I heard the crinkling of a package. “I was just going to say,” the phone clattered across the floor followed by muffled muttered words before his voice is back, ‘Sorry. Dropped the damn phone… When I was headed into the store this afternoon, that girl handed me a flyer asking me to vote for marriage equality.” Dad’s words had been mumbled, mixed with chewing sounds. “Ain’t that somethin’?” he had mused.

“That is.” I had agreed, then it had been my turn to nod at my end of the phone. “That is something,” and I had marveled how Time is the uncovering of valid truths and invalid untruths; how it is the force that drives the progression of the ever-evolving human, and how sometimes, just sometimes, it surprises us all with something worthwhile.

Friendships

“I just…” I had sighed at the start of this melancholy recap of an impromptu visit with one of my oldest friends who I hadn’t seen in several years. “It just felt like I didn’t even know who she was anymore. Like,” I pause, searching the right words to describe the new void in the pit of my being. “…like we had never really even been friends at all. Like it was something we’d made up in our minds, but had never actually ever existed.”

“Welcome to the real world,” Dad had said, matter-of-factly. He had offered no words of comfort, no softening of harsh edges, nothing more than a blatant, concise statement of truth. There had been the unmistakable tinge of regret in his tone, but being no amateur to the things that Time steals, it had been nothing more than a brief interloper piggybacking those five words.

The funny thing with Time is that it changes the people we are, the people we knew “back when,” and the places that nostalgia insists on not losing grasp of. Time steals those things, and it replaces them with new perspectives for ourselves, and new people which Time will steal from us later.

Pain
“What hurts worse? That? Or, sliding down a hill of razors on your knees and landing in a pool of alcohol?”

True, it hurt worse in my mind than it actually hurt physically, but I had hated to admit as much. For as long as I can remember, Dad had been asking that question. When I was younger, I heard it as words of indifference- uncaring, and callous, but as I got older I had begun to hear the realism. Dad used those words to put things into perspective when I could not see for myself. Eerily enough, what dear old Dad’s reminder of perspective could not heal, Time most certainly would.

Health

“So…,” I had trailed my word, disbelieving that all there was to the story was that Dad “might have had a mini stroke.” “So,” I had repeated. “You don’t know, know? Or… like, what?”

Dad was irritated, and though he growled his response, I knew his frustration wasn’t intentionally directed at me. “I don’t know, honey! I’m not a doctor, and I don’t play one on TV!”

I pinch the space between my eyebrows with my thumb and my middle finger, trying to mini-massage away my own frustrations. For every question I had ever asked my dad, whether he knew the answer or not, if he didn’t want to answer, that was how he had always responded: “I’m not a [insert professional related to field of question], and I don’t play one on TV.” As Time would tell, it hadn’t mattered what the circumstance had been, only that it had occurred, and Time had stolen from my dad, from right underneath our noses.

Faith

“Ya know,” my dad had paused in speaking his thoughts. He had pursed his lips, slowly nodding his head, encouraging himself to continue sharing with me what he had begun to. “The older I get, and the further I get along in my life, the more I’ve about decided that maybe we don’t have it all figured out.”

I had known exactly what he had been referring to, and while I absolutely agreed with his sentiment, and he knew my thoughts on “God,” it had saddened, and almost frightened me, to hear him denouncing his beliefs. For all of my life, he had been a “literal heaven,” a “hell-fire-and-brimstone,” a “ten-percent tithe,” and a “rapture-like-a-thief-in-the-night” kind of guy. Eighteen years of my life were subjected to religious teachings, moral training, and then here he had told me: “I’ve lost my faith. I just don’t believe God actually cares. I just don’t think we are significant enough in the grand scheme of things.” He had then pursed his lips again, and shook his head slightly, and we had sat in silence, watching the traffic pass by on Main Street, like ants passing busily on a mound of dirt.

**********
I am brought back to current awareness by the doctor’s intrusion into the tiny, unsterile, but private room hospitalizing my dad. Dr. What’s-His-Name smiles at me and lifts his hand slightly in acknowledgement as he moves to stand beside Dad’s bed.

“So what do we know?” I ask, wanting answers now, not in a minute, after he exchanges faux pleasantries with my dad who would not be pleasant after having his nap interrupted anyway.

“Well, we know his kidneys are failing. We know that, often, what happens when a person suffers a major stroke, it takes years before the effects are seen in many of the organs. Unfortunately, the kidney loss, as well as – there are some other issues going on too – are all the result of the major stroke he suffered years ago. It’s just…” the doctor looks from Dad, to me. “It’s just taking its toll now. I think,” Doctor pauses, considering his words carefully before continuing. “There’s nothing else we can do for him here. It is my recommendation that he be moved to hospice. I’ll put the paper work in for a transfer,” and he leaves the room just as he entered it, with a fake smile and a slight lift of long fingers in acknowledgement.

“So that sucks,” I break the spell of contemplation the doctor left us in by stating the obvious.

Dad closes his eyes again, nodding as he responds. “There it is,” speaking of the elephant in the room. “Just never enough time, is there?”

“Time is a thieving bastard,” I say angrily, perpetuating the past hour of private reminiscing, and picking up our conversation where it had left off from earlier.

Dad smiles, eyes still closed. “Maybe it is,” he concurs. “Maybe it is…, but it can’t steal what you don’t have, and more time is something I don’t have. It can’t take it from me if I don’t have it to start with.”

I breathe out a heavy sigh on a huff. Contemplating this, I swallow another lump of anxiety built up in my throat, but I don’t say anything in response for fear that the dam of tears I’m holding back will break, giving away my place of vulnerability and disbelief.

“I go on my own time,” Dad mutters, turning his head to go back to sleep. “I go on my own.”

The Living

I was sitting in the back seat of my grandmother’s car a day later. She occupied the passenger’s seat while my husband drove us across town to find “real” food to fill our bellies with for the first time in days. We were all exhausted, worn out and weary from the days spent in the hospital and hospice with Dad. Being out and about, breathing the fresh air of outside felt more “sterile” than the medicated air of hospice house, and we tried to keep our conversation light and on anything other than Dad’s failing condition.

“Hello?” My husband answered the cell phone that had begun to ring in his back pocket. “Oh. I see. Yes.” His voice was even, untelling; giving nothing away. “They’re with me right here. I’ll let them know.” Pressing “end call,” he returned his eyes to stare straight ahead at the road. In all of twenty seconds, I watched his eyes crease in the corners as I studied them in the mirror; I watched his throat work as he swallowed the first batch of words almost formed on his tongue before settling on, “He’s gone.”

An involuntary gasp sucked into my lungs swiftly at the shock of the realization of the horrible truth I had refused to believe was coming. That gasp, ferociously deafening, inflated my lungs with what felt like the last bit of precious air I would ever inhale. For a fraction of a fraction of a second in Time, my eyes blinded, and my mind blackened. The muscle of my heart froze mid-beat in the pumping of my pulse, and every ounce of life in my veins receded into some unseen recess. An immediate numbness, the involuntary coping mechanism of my nervous system, swept my body in its clutches before slowly surrendering to the inevitable creep of pain, and as I wept heavy, leaden tears trailing down my scorching cheeks, I resented Time for being the thieving bastard it was, while the daily traffic whizzed around and passed us as though the world had never stopped spinning in that moment.

A Modern, Short Story Re-Write of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (as told from Shylock’s point of view)

Deep in thought over Jessica and her, at least by his standards, poor choices she’s making in her life, weigh heavily upon this father’s mind. Shylock has spent the morning wondering how he, a Jew trying to maintain ground in this Christian society, could have better cultivated a sense of loyalty in her to their heritage and their beliefs. They (for in this society there is a heavy distinction between “they” and “us”) have convinced his daughter that he is a devil – they are the “good” and he is the “bad” – brainwashed her, he is certain. Now, the little bell above the door has sent its light ting! to interrupt his thoughts and bring a momentary distraction from this new heart ache.

Shylock recognizes this perspective customer as he looks up from the paper clip he has been absentmindedly fidgeting with on his desk, and he is by no means in the mood to amuse. Bassanio is the self-serving, self-indulged friend of Shylock’s earthly arch-nemesis, Antonio, which makes him guilty by association if nothing else, and here he is asking the “lowly Jew” for money? This understanding almost brings smirk to Shylock’s worn face.

“Three-thousand dollars…well.” Shylock responds to Bassanio’s request, not asking to clarify, but repeating the requested sum in part to buy time to consider how he’s going to handle this transaction, and in part to reiterate the irony of the request.

“Yes sir, for three months.”
Sir? Shylock replays the word in his mind. It is interesting to him that in time of their need they are willing to offer some semblance of respect by referring to him as “sir”.

“For three months… well.” This repetition for sake of drawing out the irony and buying Shylock time. It defies his greed, his need to survive, if he were to turn down this business opportunity, but it defies his sense of self-worth to accept it.
“Yes,” Bassanio confirms, “Antonio will be responsible for paying it back.”
“Antonio will be responsible…well.” In his mind, Shylock snorts at this. Typical of Bassanio to need something for himself but to make Antonio responsible for it. Ahhh, the irony… the irony… In Shylock’s observation, the Christian idea of friendship being exhibited is far from the example of friendship the founder of their religion gave.

Christianity, which bases its moral code, religious doctrine, and spirituality upon the example and teachings of Jesus has, in Shylock’s experience, betrayed itself multiple times over. He marvels over the superiority the Christians carry regarding themselves, yet their treatment of humanity lacks. Further, he finds it more amusing that Christians base their existence upon the teachings of a Jew, yet they spurn and scorn the Jews among them.       This irony too is not lost on Shylock.

“Will you do it? Do we have a deal?” Bassanio interjects.
Shylock again subtly emphasizes his consideration, “Three-thousand dollars for three months, and Antonio is responsible for paying it back.”

“That’s it.”
“Antonio is a good man.” This statement is not made as a question, nor is it made as a matter-of-fact. This statement is made sarcastically, however subtly, though the sarcasm is entirely lost on Bassanio.

No matter what the Christians of Venice may think of Shylock and the way he conducts business, he cannot, in good conscience, conduct business with an absent man. “Well, I’ll have to meet with Antonio, discuss the parameters of the deal, and make sure he understands the implications and the risks…” This is a dual-purposed decision on Shylock’s part. For one, no business man worth his salt would hold a man responsible who was not present to agree to the bond, and for the second thing, Antonio’s pride could use a shaving or two by being forced to face Shylock head-on, look him in the eye, and request his help.

Ha! A Christian at the mercy of a Jew… Shylock finds the whole thing both amusing, and slightly disconcerting. He would prefer to not enter into the arrangement at all; too much bad blood between the two religious sects, and too much bad blood between the two individuals: the “holier-than-thou” Christian, and the “lowly, wretched” Jew. Shylock shakes his head to clear the thoughts.

“Ahh! Here he is! Shylock, this is Antonio,” as Bassanio formally introduces the two strangers who, in spite of their unacquaintance, have previous, unpleasant interaction with one another.

Glimpsing Antonio in the reflection of the security mirror hanging in the corner of the office, the old, harbored feelings of revenge and resentment, dislike and distrust surface. Shylock is consumed with thoughts of hatred for Antonio.

“Shylock, did you hear me?” Bassanio-the-selfish interrupts Shylock’s thoughts.

“Oh, yeah… I heard you. I was just considering what I have readily available to loan. I’m not sure I have it to lend…” Shylock is wrestling with his conscience. He can very easily stick to this story and get out of the whole deal with his good conscience still intact, but his old feelings of resentment gurgle so close to the surface now and eventually win out as he continues, “But, ya know what? I’ve got a wealthy buddy who can supply the funds. You boys still interested?”

Shylock notices the hesitation in Antonio’s answer as he loudly exhales his breath before answering, “I…” and his “I” lingers on his tongue until it fades from voice. “I don’t usually borrow more than I have, nor do I spend or lend more than I have.” Antonio again hesitates as he looks at his friend, Bassanio. “But, my buddy here needs quite a bit, so…” Antonio exhales again. “But, what the heck, let’s do it.”

Shylock stares at Antonio, surprised by his weakness; how easily he betrays his personal conviction because he continually allows himself to be taken advantage of by his “friends”.

Thinking on this, Shylock’s thoughts make their way to his tongue before he is able to stop it.

“You would betray yourself, and your convictions because a “friend” wants you to?” Shylock shakes his head in disgust. “You would do business with me, a hated adversary, just because a “friend” wants more from you than you can give? And you can’t give it – you don’t have it to give, so you need my help. You come to me, and expect me to help you?! You spit in my face last Wednesday. You have called me a dog, yet you refuse to even treat me as well as you treat the stray dogs on the street! All this and more mistreatment from you, who do not even know me, and yet here you stand and want me to help you?”

Shylock does not break his gaze from Antonio, and it is not lost on Shylock that Antonio has not lost his look of contempt for Shylock.

Proving this contempt, Antonio responds, “Sure I have. I have, and I’ll do it again.”
Shylock, in disbelief, shakes his head. “I would be friends with you. I would be a good friend to you. I would help you out with anything you needed help with; I’d give you the shirt off my back, but you’re too stupid and too stubborn to listen.”

A moment of thick silence passes between the men before Shylock, blood boiling with the flavor of ill-regard and old harbored resentments, speaks again. “I’ll tell you what I’ll do… I’ll lend you the money you want, for the amount of time you want it for. If you do not repay me the money by the agreed upon conditions, I get a pound of your flesh.”

This is a condition of hidden duality; consciously, Shylock assumes there is no way Antonio will take this deal – which will absolve Shylock from any responsibility in the transaction, and will absolve him from having to do business with this stupid, stubborn, arrogant, oppressive Christian; subconsciously, in the rare event that Antonio should accept the deal, a small part of the weaker side of Shylock will be justified when the revenge Antonio deserves is served – cold – which is the best way revenge is served.

To the ill fate of Shylock, and the damnation of Antonio, too proud to gasp for air as he is drowning, Antonio signs on the dotted line.

About this re-write:

I rewrote this scene from Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice, for one of my Literature classes. I chose this particular scene because Shylock is a character whom scholars are unable to agree upon, nor are they able to come to any concrete conclusions about. Scholars and readers alike do not know how to appropriately classify the character of Shylock, how to analyze his actions and behaviors, nor can they effectively determine an agreement on Shakespeare’s intent with the character of Shylock. Is he good? Is he bad? Are any of the characters in the play able to distinctively be classified as “good” or “bad”?

Author Kenneth Gross, in his book titled Shylock is Shakespeare makes the claim that Shylock “steps into a void and is almost forgotten by the play itself, which continues on for another act” (Gross). Gross goes on then to use this “incompleteness” as support for his understanding as the reason readers and scholars are left continually guessing about Shylock saying, “we can neither quite let him go nor decide what form to give him in our minds” (Gross). As a reader, I am unable to let go of Shylock’s character. Modern readers need clearly defined characters; they need the immediate gratification of knowing whom among the characters to “root for”. Shakespeare does not readily provide his readers with this, so it is up to the reader to decide, making it easy to pin Shylock as the villain. Upon close analysis and ample consideration, this is not necessarily the case of course, unless the reader is using his/her own religious attitudes as bias in their reading.

I used Gross’ book as support that I was, in fact, not alone in Shylock’s lingering presence in my analyses. Further, I used author Janet Adelman’s book, Blood Relations: Christian and Jew in the Merchant of Venice, for clarification of the complex relationship between Antonio and Shylock. Adelman purports that the theme of blood is undeniable between the two sects; i.e. The Jews demanded the blood of Jesus; Jesus gave his blood for his followers (Christians); Shylock demands blood from Antonio; Antonio eventually, figuratively, bleeds Shylock dry; not to mention the close “familial” relationship between the two religions in the first place in which, historically, Christianity was born from Judaism.

As a critical reader of literature, and as an analyst of literature, I feel that Shylock deserves a deeper look. There is much to be missed by succumbing to the modern day understanding of a story in which we take it at face value, placing classifications where they easily seem to fit. Shakespeare clearly does not divide his characters in The Merchant of Venice as good or bad, but instead intends the reader to fairly balance, and give a fair fighting chance to all of his characters. It is in this “fair” reading that, perhaps, Shakespeare’s intent can be interpreted.

Works Cited
Adelman, Janet. Blood Relations: Christian and Jew in the Merchant of Venice. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2008. Web. 25 Oct. 2014. <http://site.ebrary.com/lib/apus/reader.action?docID=10266060&gt;.
Gross, Kenneth. Shylock Is Shakespeare. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2006. Web. 24 Oct. 2014. <http://site.ebrary.com/lib/apus/reader.action?docID=10266016&gt;.
Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. ENGL 200: Composition and Literature. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011. Web. 10 Oct 2014.

The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Purpose in Life

gilgameshWritten between 2500 and 1500 B.C.E., the epic of Gilgamesh is the earliest work of literature modern culture has obtained. Its original recording in cuneiform is a characteristic that any considerate analyst of literature will not overlook in determining the theme of this masterpiece. This expression of writing was time consuming and labor intensive, and the fact that the author, and/or recorder, invested the time and work into these tablets suggests that its purpose is to persevere. Scholars and students contend varying views when considering the epic of Gilgamesh and the changes from one topic to the next. Many of them arrive at the overall theme being that of Gilgamesh’s search for escape from death, and certainly that is a strong topic, but when one considers the individual topics, one can begin to see a larger intent. The epic is not to be broken down into individual focuses, but consider the text as a whole, in which the ending purpose is not of having gained life in death, but of having gained wisdom in life. The descriptive words used to describe the attributes of Gilgamesh, “suckling… towering… opening… digging… traversing… exploring… seeking… reaching…restorer… founder (14),” foreshadow the phases of life and the quest for wisdom that eventually ensues as a person progresses through it.

The epic, through its array of topics, tells the story of the cycle of life. Beginning with the perfect description of what could be any young adult “towering” on the cusp of really entering into life, it describes a young Gilgamesh as “a charging wild bull,” a “wild calf”, and “perfect in strength” (13) as life has yet to batter him with its experiences. Gilgamesh experiences the lust for youth’s sexuality, claiming as he wills and taking selfishly, before realizing one of life’s greatest and most basic assets. Friendship, even by modern standards, is acquired early in life. It is a necessary asset to life, as one reads that Gilgamesh naturally “yearned for one to know his heart, a friend (18).” Through Enkidu, the gods gave an example of wisely choosing one’s partner through life. Companionship is a partnership; equal in strengths, but different enough to rival with the slightest competitive edge.

Tzvi Abusch, who states in his critical essay, “The Development and Meaning of the Epic of Gilgamesh: An Interpretive Essay” that it is “the death of Enkidu” that is “the catalyst for change” (Abusch), contradicts himself when his following sentence states that, “by making Enkidu Gilgamesh’s friend, the composer has turned the Epic into a tale of growth” (Abusch). It is this last part of his statement that I agree with. It is in the formation of friendship that the reader begins to see the budding of the unfolding of life for Gilgamesh as he develops a heightened level of ambition for pursuing a purpose in life, as seen in his statement, “I must establish eternal fame” (26). It is here that the adventure of life begins.

The beginning of life’s adventures signals the ushering in of a new phase; the “digging” phase. It is in this stage of life that Gilgamesh, partnered with Enkidu, “dig” for knowledge in the seeking of advice from the elders and of his mother. Gilgamesh states his life’s intent to them, and though, as pointed out by the elders, he is “young,” his “feelings carry [him] away,” he is “ignorant of what he speaks,” and he is overtaken with “flightiness” (27), he seeks their advice and they oblige. Life is in its early stages for Gilgamesh, and it has not yet taught its full value of lessons. Gilgamesh has learned to seek advice but not to heartily accept it, and so the two, Gilgamesh and Enkidu, depart from the security of adolescence and young adulthood to embark on their journey through life.

It is during this journey, part of Gilgamesh’s quest for purpose, that he develops into the next phase of life which is the “opening” of his eyes to the beginning lessons of wisdom. This lesson ignites by the killing of Humbaba (40-44) which is the overcoming of life’s first real obstacle. The spark of wisdom’s lesson continues to burn as, in contrast to Gilgamesh’s previously youthful ways with sex, Ishtar propositions and bribes him (45), which he justifiably turns down, using logic as reason for doing so.  This use of logic in making his decision is a hint of the growth of wisdom in Gilgamesh’s life.

Because Gilgamesh shunned Ishtar’s advances, she demands that her father release the Bull of Heaven to kill Gilgamesh (47). Gilgamesh stabs the bull to death. The lesson wisdom attempts to impart is basic to the laws of nature, though it would be lost on the two friends until Gilgamesh is again punished by the slow and eventual death of Enkidu: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

It is this same law of nature that is to thank, in part, for another valuable life lesson made evident in the epic. As the realization dawns on Enkidu that he will die as a result of Gilgamesh’s killing of the Bull (50), he begins to curse the harlot as responsible for the way his life has turned out (51). Shamash reminds him that, without the harlot, his friendship with Gilgamesh would be nonexistent and that, alone, is worth the price of an early death (52). The chain of events that Shamash points out to Enkidu not only drives home the point of consequences to every action, but also implies with it that all things happen for a reason. These things lead into another aspect of one’s life. In this same divination, by suggesting that the camaraderie with Gilgamesh is worth the price of death, it establishes the ultimate bond of love as another jewel of wisdom gained in this phase of life.

Enkidu’s worry over his fate of eventual death prompts Gilgamesh to speak on the matter. He tells his friend that it is the living who mourn over death and that “people often die before their time” (51). It is suggested in the narrative of the epic that this is Gilgamesh’s way of comforting Enkidu, but to me it sounds slightly flippant and unconcerned, most likely from the lack of true understanding of death. Gilgamesh has the knowledge of death as a reality, but a lack of life experience blocks his sympathies from imparting sincere comfort to Enkidu on the matter.

This lack of sympathy to the reality of death is short lived as Gilgamesh faces the inevitability of Enkidu’s death. This inevitability is crucial to the purpose of the text, being the acquisition of wisdom through life’s phases, as Abusch further expands on the matter in his critical essay, “Without Enkidu’s death, there is no development” (Abusch). Abusch’s statement is double-sided though I’m not sure he intends it as so. Enkidu’s death is vital to the development not only of the tale, but also to the development of wisdom as Gilgamesh pilgrimages his life. This development of Gilgamesh exposes the reader to new lessons of life: true sympathy, compassion, and the harsh sting of reality. It is also the first time Gilgamesh is subdued with fear (59).

Fear, along with newfound grief and a broken heart, propels Gilgamesh into the “traversing” phase of life. While the reader has had the opportunity to watch Gilgamesh’s growth in wisdom and intellect throughout his life so far, there is now a definite transition from the innocent blunder of youth, to the very discernable weariness of the knowledge of life’s brutalities. The death of a loved one is perhaps one of life’s most fierce, and most misunderstood lessons. Often, people respond with questions they desperately need answers for and spend unknown amounts of their lives searching for these answers.

Gilgamesh did this very thing and began his quest for “life”. His initial quest would be for life after death, or life in the place of death, and though Shamash plainly tells Gilgamesh, “the eternal life you are seeking you shall not find” (60), Gilgamesh refuses to accept that. His following statement, “I have been asleep all these years!” (60), expresses regret for the life he has lived thus far. This regret, coupled with fear, will drive him further in his quest.

Further travel along this quest brings the wanderer, Gilgamesh, to the tavern keeper, Siduri (63). His wanderings through the darkness of depression enables the maintaining of his grief, heartache, and fear, all of which are plainly showing in his disposition and countenance. Siduri, wise beyond expectancy, gives Gilgamesh, the reader, and the epic the most important and timeless words:

“Gilgamesh, wherefore do you wander? The eternal life you are seeking you shall not find. When the gods created mankind, They established death for mankind, and withheld eternal life for themselves. As for you, Gilgamesh, let your stomach be full, always be happy, night and day. Make every day a delight, night and day play and dance. Your clothes should be clean, your head should be washed, you should bathe in water, look proudly on the little one holding your hand, let your mate be always blissful in your loins, this, then, is the work of mankind” (65).

Gilgamesh, blinded by grief (65-66), fails to accept her invaluable words.

As Gilgamesh enters the “exploring” phase of his life, the reader sees he has crushed the Stone Charms that protectively guide the boat to the other shore, and instead “explores” other options; more reliant on himself, as though he has a point to prove. It seems an act of self-punishment, but it is necessary in the progression through these phases of life in order to reach renewal and find closure.

It is also in this phase that I began to wonder if Gilgamesh’s laments turned into a fear, not necessarily of death itself, but of having to face life, especially without his companion. Though his words are the same, it seems a natural progression, in keeping with the theme, that the tone of his words change as a by-product of the inadvertent growth of his wisdom.

Gilgamesh addresses the weariness that comes with the course of that natural progression as he admits to Utanapishtim that he has had little sleep, he’s worn himself out, and his muscles ache as the result of this weariness (71). This acknowledgement, after a long, miserable quest, is the pivotal moment in which Gilgamesh enters the “seeking” phase of his life. Utanapishtim offers the relief Gilgamesh seeks by pointing the things he is doing to himself that he should avoid. These, also, are classic lessons of life that the author intends the reader to learn: stress has adverse effects on one’s health, and for no reason; there is nothing to gain through grief and worry but a shortened lifetime (71). Utanapishtim, as does the author, spares no realities as he continues in telling Gilgamesh the second most important set of words in the epic: life is short and it goes by quick; the building up of material lives, family feuds, natural disasters… all of these are natural to life, but none last forever. The only two things natural to life that exist consistently are life and death (71-72).

Gilgamesh, as he is entering the “reaching” phase of life, now begins to reach an understanding that the purpose of his quest may not be ending up as he had expected. For each night Gligamesh sleeps, Utanapishtim lays out bread, symbolic of life being wasted in Gilgamesh’s need to avoid death.

As Gilgamesh awakens, notes the bread, and resigns himself to a life of mortality, Utanapishtim presents the realization that Gilgamesh is the opposite of the way Siduri has said mankind is to be and orders him to be cleaned, groomed, and carry forward with some self-pride. This brings in the “restoring” phase and as it is stated that “until he completed his journey, his garments would stay spotless, fresh and new” (79), it is a statement that Gilgamesh will maintain his life’s purpose for the remainder of the life he has. This restoring phase is re-established one final time as James Keenan interprets in his critical essay, “Gilgamesh: An Appreciation,” “Gilgamesh plucks the plant from the bottom of the lake; but on his journey back to Uruk, he bathes in a pool, leaving the plant beside the pool. A snake slithers along, filches the plant and sheds its own skin in exchange, ‘throwing off the past and continuing to live’” (Keenan). This is life’s final lesson in wisdom, ushering in the final phase of life, the “founding” phase, in which the story concludes with the same words as it began (81), thus completing life’s cycle.

It is this cycle of life and the lessons contained within that made the epic important enough to carve as wedges into tablets, and it is this cycle of life that makes the story “epic”, even as time progresses. Abusch defines “epic” as “…a hero, that is, a powerful warrior who shows his mettle in battle…is aggressive and courageous…battles strong enemies…” (Abusch). The epic of Gilgamesh tells that all of life is an epic battle between searching for life, and living it.

                                                                Works Cited

Abusch, Tzvi. “The Development and Meaning of the Epic of Gilgamesh: An Interpretive Essay.” Journal of the American Oriental Society (2001): 614-622. Literature Resources    Center. Web. 4 Jan. 2012.

Keenan, James G. “Gilgamesh: An Appreciation.” Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism.                 Ed. Jelena O.Krstovic. Vol. 74. Detroit, MI: Gale, 2005. Literature Resources Center.             Web. 4 Jan. 2012.

“Gilgamesh.” The Norton Anthology World Literature. Shorter Second Edition. Ed. Peter Simon. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2009. 13-81. Print