Critical Writing 11
10/16/03
Essay#2: An Absence of Windows
Richard Selzer’s “An Absence of Widows” is a short and brilliantly
composed essay, discussing how grief is harder to deal with in the absence
of God. Selzer uses a personal experience of his to convey his message. In
his story, he describes his surgery patient, the local mail man’s
unbearable pancreatic agony and death, at a distance comfortable enough
that we understand the magnitude of the patient’s suffering but don’t feel
or care about it. And yet the author still doesn’t fail to remind us that
one day it will be our turn to suffer that same pain. He explains how he
had to distance himself from reality in order to endure the loss and
suffering of his patients, and states that when the hospital had windows,
he did not have to distance himself at all. The windows, he declared, were
his “celestial connection”. What the windows really represent is everyone’s
connection with God, and the patient symbolizes the heavy losses that
everyone experiences. The hospital’s eradication of the widows in the
operating room symbolizes that people are getting more and more distant
from religion and God, and thus, have to distance themselves from reality
in order to endure the hardships of life. My personal experience with the
death of my grandfather led me to a similar but slightly different
conclusion about how to deal with these hardships.

As a young man my grandfather, Abvram Drapacz, emigrated from the
vast icebox of his neglectful Soviet motherland, and came to the United
States, seeking work as an electrician; work that would ensure his family’s
survival, and his death. Asbestos used for electrical insulation cancered
lungs. His dying was long and slow, and for three years he milked every
last bit of life from his body, using any energy he had to hold on to his
sorry bed-ridden existence, before slipping away one early morning, out his
family’s reach, into something or nothing, out of our current
understanding.

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He was ready long before the time came, but he stayed and suffered as
long as he could, mostly for my grandmother who couldn’t let go. The night
before his death I knew the time was close and I let go of him then,
instead of the following morning. Already having accepted his death, I
wasn’t sad, so I spent the day trying to help my grandmother. My
grandmother who was all alone, alone in that big house that was his; she
was the real loss. She was never the same kind, loving, selfish, angry,
ruthless person she was before, just sad and all alone now.

I never cried for my grandfather unless I tried too. It wasn’t that I
was too strong to cry: it was that I was too weak to face my pain. So I
distanced myself from myself and watched my life float by like a dream. I
tried to force the tears and they came but not enough, not enough to feel
the pain I needed to come back.

I remember a conversation I overheard once when I was young, between
him and his brother in-law. He said all the business with God was nonsense.

“Of course God is not real, is imaginary ye know dis nonsense. But you have
to believe ’cause people don’t believe ye know ey go crazy and start te
kill each other,” he bellowed in his thick Russo-Polish accent. I
understood what he was saying, and had thought about it before, but coming
from one of the most religious men I knew, it shocked me. During his dying
years my grandmother would buy him those new-age religious books they use
to comfort dying people, but he refused them, and said he didn’t have time
for was garbage. I now understand that he only practiced Judaism for its
traditional significance.

I gave up on all religion shortly after my Bar Mitzvah. Those years I
spent being brainwashed by the dogmatic insanity may have been wasted, but
at least I got out with the money. I quit after I read some books, and came
to some conclusions about religion and death. Whether it contains any truth
or not, religion makes us weak. It is most commonly used to escape and get
around the hardest parts of life. It gives us immediate but possibly false
answers to questions we need to learn to accept as unanswerable for the
time being. It gives us a greater force to blame for our faults. It gives
us courage, so that we never learn to find the courage within ourselves. It
relieves us of the tragedy of loss so that we don’t learn to accept losses.

It gives a planned future, when the future is unknown – when death is upon
us. Someone who uses religion as a pillow to curl up and die on may never
be ready to face death in the definitive meaning of the word. Whether this
sense of the word death is or is not what really awaits us is irrelevant.

One should be ready to face this end at anytime of the day, at any point in
life. If this mindset is attained one should not need religion or anything
else to relieve the unfixable problems. Every second, every moment, good or
bad will be important. This person will live without boundaries. The
“opened windows” connecting us to heaven are not needed if we can open the
windows within ourselves.