Gregory North

A Lasting Impression
© Gregory North, 2008

Jack London wrote, "The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time."

"Man's proper function is to live,
   not simply to exist",
are words Jack London used they say –
a wise old adage, still today,
   but here's an awful twist.

When Arthur lay in hospital
   frustration fuelled his groans.
He'd push aside the oxygen
then try to get away again,
   till straps revived his moans.

"For God's sake, get these off me!"
   he shouted at restraints.
His struggles were in vain it seemed,
with no escape, again he screamed.
   No ears for his complaints.

Some hours before, the doctor asked,
   "How are you Arthur, mate?"
Just..."Good", he said without a thought.
How could he be? He sounds distraught.
   Could he be thinking straight?

Dementia was responsible
   for Arthur's rash reply.
A fall inside a nursing home
had brought him to this bed of chrome
   with straps and bars up high.

Pneumonia too had clawed its way
   inside his feeble frame.
"I want to die. Oh, kill me please."
Was that his wish, or his disease
   still playing out its game?

"Man's proper function is to live,
   not simply to exist",
and that existence cannot be
called living – not for you or me,
   but we may not assist!

His daughter and her child had come
   to visit that same day.
They spoke few words. Their stay was short.
How long had they been his support,
   and watched his mind fall prey?

I got to thinking what he'd been
    before his mind gave out.
A father, husband, engineer
a-gush with yarns behind a beer,
    who always chimed, "Your shout!"

Or had he been a scientist,
    or sportsman of renown?
A civic leader, perfect host,
or tradesman said to be the most
    reliable in town?

Or was he 'Farty Arty' once,
    who'd have them all guffaw
when roaring wind would pass his gate
at Lions club through hot debate
    and have them on the floor?

Well, what he'd been, he wasn't now,
    and living, this was not.
Did Arthur have a right to die?
Or should we never question why
    and leave him there to rot?

"Just kill me if I get like that,"
    we've all heard people say.
"There is no quality of life
if mind is gone or pain is rife.
    Don't let me get that way."

They moved him to another room
    but I still heard him wail.
I mused about his strength of will.
Could will alone bring on a kill
    to free him from his jail?

"Your father doesn't have much time,"
    I overheard the call.
And when the morning dawned for me
I knew that Arthur now was free.
    His moans weren't in the hall.

Just how would friends and family
    remember Arthur's span?
As Farty Arty with his beer,
or one-time Father of the Year,
    or sorry, broken man?

For me, his pleading haunts me still.
    A thought I can't resist.
Will I crave death when life won't give?
Man's proper function is to live,
    not simply to exist.

This poem won the Silver Brumby Award at the Man from Snowy River Bush Festival 2009

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© Gregory North 2010. Photos by Andrew Bosman and Gregory North. Updated February 2012