The US is no country for old men

An elderly man crosses the street toward City Hall on October 14, 2020 in Providence, RI [File: AP/David Goldman] Shortly prior to his death from prostate cancer in August of this year at the age of 72, my father emerged from a state of muteness to recite, with a burst of energy, the 1927 poem, Sailing to Byzantium, by William Butler Yeats, which begins: “That is no country for old men.” My mother, my uncle, and I were present for the impromptu performance, which took place in my father’s bed in Washington, DC, where he had commenced in-home hospice care after the chemotherapy treatments that had been forced upon him by profit-oriented doctors had accelerated his demise. This was but one of many poems my father had memorised as a young man intent on honing his intellectual credentials; my mother and uncle – who in their youth had also fallen under the influence of my dad’s cerebral pursuits – joined in on the lines they remembered. Having completed his vehement recitation, my father resumed his generally mute state, which was thereafter punctuated only by intermittent outbursts about wanting to die. I have no way of knowing what was going through my dad’s mind during that final poetic eruption, but the first line of the Yeats poem did seem to be a fitting commentary on the country in which we found ourselves – the one where we had all been born and the one my parents and I had spent years avoiding. My mom and dad had only relatively recently returned to reside in the homeland after nearly eight years in Barcelona ; I had flown into Washington in August from Turkey, which was one of my regular stops in a 20-year self-imposed exile. Indeed, my father’s final months had […]

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By Donato