Thursday, March 06, 2014

'Follies of the living, concerns of the dead'

Memories of "M*A*S*H."

Oh, how they grow sweeter with age, "vintage wine from fine old kegs," with apologies to Ervin Drake.

Last night, I watched "Follies of the Living, Concerns of the Dead." Yep, I cried. Again.

At the beginning of the episode, Klinger is running a high fever due to a kidney stone. Meanwhile, a group of wounded arrives, including a young man who is DOA.

The problem is that he isn't quite dead. His spirit rises from his body. Only Klinger can see him.

He watches, helpless, as the doctors and nurses of the 4077th argue over trifles -- who's hanger is whom's, for example, and other little quirks. He even watches as Father Mulcahy gives him the last rites.

In one scene, he roams through the camp, hearing passersby worry about the National League pennant or how their hair looks or all the things we, the living, stress over, follies, just as the title says.

Three scenes get to me.

One is when Hawkeye, B.J. and Winchester are back in The Swamp after a long session of meatball surgery. They are drinking to ease the pain. At one point, one of them tightens a scalpel on B.J.'s hand.

"I can still feel it."

Another is when a wounded soldier listens as Col. Potter reads the letter the wounded man wrote to the dead soldier's parents. It's perfect. Poignant.

The last one is the climax. The young man realizes that he is, in fact, dying.

"This way," another dead soldier says.

"Where are we going?" he asks.

"I don't know" is the reply.

I never realized how much this episode puts me in mind of my favorite installment of "Magnum, p.i." It is appropriately called "Limbo." Intended as the series finale (long story), "Limbo" shows Magnum, who is fatally shot at the beginning of the show, walking around unseen, in spirit form, saying goodbye to his friends. He takes a final walk into the mist to the strains of John Denver's "Looking For Space."

I have to repeat the soldier's words from "M*A*S*H."

"I don't know."

I don't know what happens when one dies. The romantic in me hopes that one does indeed get to roam around for a few minutes, saying goodbye to loved ones, taking one last look at favorite places, punctuating all periods.

But the more important lesson, particularly from the "M*A*S*H" episode, is that we're often concerned about follies that just don't matter in the grand scheme of things.

Who cares if someone cuts you off in traffic? So what if you fail an exam? What's the worst that can happen if you make a mistake?

Yesterday morning, I started worrying about missing early deadline. Almost had a dadgum panic attack. And for what? Nothing. It worked out. It always does.

The one thing I like about that "Don't sweat the small stuff" business is that it is a cliche that happens to be true.

Live for today. Don't worry about what you can't control. Don't stress about stuff that doesn't matter.

Laugh. Love. Hug. Be kind to someone for the heck of it. To quote Bobby McFerrin, don't worry, be happy!

Let the resentments go. Forgive those who trespass against you. When you screw up, admit it. Call people when you don't want anything. Use each failure as a learning tool.

Life is short. Carpe diem.

"Follies of the living, concerns of the dead."


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