The little me
Don’t think that I’m a smart person, alright? That would be a mistake on your part.
Well, hello Fish Eater. A warm welcome to you from Tomasz Goetel writing here.
Don’t think that I’m a smart person, alright? That would be a mistake on your part. Any given Sunday, I could sit down and drink Canadian Club whiskey and pretend that I’m in Canada. That’s how dumb I am.
I… I… I…
I am firmly convinced that the only antidote that can make the reader forget the everlasting I’s which the author proposes to use is perfect sincerity (Stendhal).
I was born in a country that ceased to be. Known in Polish vernacular as “PRL” (Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa), the communist Polish Peoples’ Republic was the predecessor of today’s Republic of Poland. In 1989, PRL ceased to be because its one and only ruling party committed hara-kiri.
I am ‘a’ (and ‘the’) grandson of Ferdynand Goetel. My paternal grandfather was a splendid writer. He was also known for—what do they call it?—political activism. My grandfather was forced to leave Poland at the end of the World War II due to his involvement with the discovery by the Nazi Germans of the ‘Katyn massacre’ perpetrated by the Soviet Ruskies. For the truth about Katyn everything was taken from him. Ferdynand Goetel died in exile in London twelve years before I was born. Not only was he exiled from his fatherland and family, but he spent his final years lonely, destitute, and blind. How very, very sad! I wish I had been there, I would have been able to look after him, keep him company, and hold his hand at the end. How very, very sad.
On the bright side, I grew up in the loving arms of the Polish Roman Catholic Church and Stanisław Lem in the time of Matka Polka, Nowa Huta, and John Paul II.
As a boy, I was probably rather strongly synesthetic or ideasthetic, or both. I probably rather strongly still am. Those used to be my secrets, you know, but today I don’t care.
At fourteen years of age, I was the principal subject in the reproduction of the Asch experiment which premise and result when all was done and dusted were explained to me. I “tested negative”. I can see today, in retrospect, that I was at that very time shaped for years to come to become and remain a person who is sensitive to both conformity and authority even more than he is a slave to his natural endowment with a disagreeable personality.
In high school, I was no longer willing to put my hand up to be allowed to go to the bathroom. It was at that time that I decided I had no choice but to become my own teacher.
Having left my parents’ home as soon as I had reached legal drinking age, I left my home country when the obligatory-at-the-time military service started knocking on my door. Leaving Poland was not the only option; the two other possible ways of avoiding the military two-step included putting myself in front of a commission falsely declaring myself a homosexual, or going to a university. Both options were equally unthinkable to me as they belonged to the “I’d rather die” category. My guardian angel had me pack a suitcase and run away from Poland instead.
At first, I found a hiding place in Moscow of the early 90s where I worked in casinos run by gangsters. I made my way to the Caribbean afterward, then Belgium, then the US, then Thailand, then Switzerland, then Thailand again. An emigrant drifter whose wife is a drifter’s life since 1993, I never returned to live in Poland. I’ve always lived as though I were in a hotel. That is not a bad thing—a homeless man is free, even though having to pay rent might seem like an unpleasant necessity. But I never forgot where I came from—the whole lifetime (so far), I have been an incorrigible Pole. A Polish nationalist, perhaps, possibly, probably. Absent Polish patriots, we are many.
For fifteen years, from Moscow to Miami, table games on casino floors were my university. I went to work at roulette tables the same way other young men go to work on oil rigs. And just as they did, I made small fortunes and never learned to keep them. In those years, I made myself extra wages counting cards at blackjack and pulling money out of friends’ pockets at poker.
For twenty years, yoga mats in yoga studios were the place of my postgraduate studies. My marriage with hathayoga ended in divorce in 2020.
For a decade, Thailand’s girlie bars and go-go clubs were my secret gardens. Aided by strip-me-naked inebration and hashish Rausch, I’d bend spacetime, temporarily escape gravity, and smell the flowers of life. We had some lively times.1
For five years, I submerged myself into a wellness clinic in Phuket called Atmanjai. With a job title of a detox counsellor, I was a part of a team that would offer Dr. Bernard Jensen’s programs to adults from all regions of the world. In a complex work environment, a challenging job. Its particularly unforgettable, to me, aspect: thousands of conversation hours with hundreds of persons who appear as successful, educated, upbeat, well-off individuals—but then a vast majority of those voluntarily admit feeling chronically sad, overwhelmed, vulnerable, lonely, unhealthy and unhappy. Heartbreaking. On a less serious note, one of the specialties of Atmanjai has been very good colonics. Colon therapies are ‘in’ nowadays, and you’d be surprised if you knew what comes out of civilized, city-dwelling citizens’ rectums, that is. Oh, the things I’ve seen. Transformative.
During a long winter a few years ago, I got lost among Switzerland’s many masterpiece collections of Renaissance religious icons. Zurich, Basel, Lucerne, Geneva, Bern, Fribourg, Lausanne. I gazed at everything with stupid eyes (Stendhal). But then came a moment when suddenly I found myself back at the feet of The One From Nazareth where I sat as a boy. Now on my fiftieth birthday, I want to stand with the Christian Faith in impecuniosity.
Nowadays: ‘ars moriendi’ and ‘amicus morti’
“A society which shuns the dying must have an incomplete philosophy.”—C. Saunders
“(. . . ) when a country—a society, a civilization—comes to legalize euthanasia, it loses, in my eyes, any right to respect.”—Michel Houellebecq
“I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan.”—Hippocratic Oath
“He that sinneth before his Maker, let him fall into the hand of the physician.”—Ecclesiasticus 38:15, KJV
Forty years of being busy with my own betrayal of my own ideals has been enough.
My humble pedestrian study2 and my rather serious practical interests revolve around asking questions that mirror those asked by Ivan Illich before me: “Is there still an autonomous self capable of the act of dying?”, how can I find willingness to accept the inevitable, find strength in the beauty of memories, and take leave of this world consciously? How can I, in a sober state and without fear, surrender to the Will of the Creator calling me back to Himself when He decided that “my” time is up?
I’m pursuing an interest in:
a good death, or ‘ars moriendi’, or ‘amicus mortis’—and NOT legalized ‘euthanasia’;
non-medical palliative care directed toward persons with the so-called terminal diseases;
hospice care for persons who do not need or want the resources of a large hospital and who cannot be cared for at home, and what, if anything, can be done to not become preoccupied with financial considerations at the expense of other factors when evaluating hospice care;
companionship to old men.
If any of my Dear Readers is pursuing the same, or similar, interests, please contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org—I’m hoping a conversation could ensue.
And here I must finish this piece of writing.
There are no dead around; only the memory of lives that are not there. The ordinary person suffers from the inability to die. In an a mortal society, the ability to die, that is the ability to live no longer, depends not on culture but on friendship. The old Mediterranean norm that a wise person needs to acquire and treasure, an amicus mortis, one who tells you the bitter truth and stays with you to the inexorable end, calls for revival.3
“To be drunken for ever: that is the only thing which matters! If you would escape Time’s bruises and his heavy burdens which weigh you to the earth, you must be drunken.
But how? With the fruit of the wine, with poetry, with virtue, with what you will. But be drunken. And if, sometime, at the gates of a palace, on the green banks of a river, or in the shadowed loneliness of your own room, you should awake and find intoxication lessened or passed away, ask of the wind, of the wave, of the star, of the bird, of the timepiece; ask all that flies, all that sighs, all that revolves, all that sings, all that speaks — ask of these the hour. And the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, and the timepiece will answer you: “It is the hour to be drunken! Lest you be martyred slaves of Time, intoxicate yourselves, be drunken without cease! With wine, with poetry, with virtue, or with what you will.””
Especially the study of what has been said about the end of human life. I want to read and understand whatever I can find in the pre-Vatican II teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, I’m also looking at the works offered by Cecily Saunders, Ivan Illich, Philippe Ariès, C. G. Jung, Marie-Louise von Franz, Geoffrey Gorer, and several others.
Words of my beloved Ivan Illich, Death Undefeated. In 1974, Illich spoke of the increasing difficulty a person experiences in attempting not to miss the hour of one’s death because of medicalisation. However, in 1995 he sees the results of an even more sinister reality: since the introduction of ‘systems’, people’s very self perception has been changed (e.g., education and medicine are organised as systems, interlocked with military, economic and other systems.) A person experiences himself or herself now as a ‘life’ which is under professional management. Whereas medicalisation spelled dependence, systems’ analytical concepts spell disembodiment. Here.