A Dialogue with the Dying

Fade In: An Elderly Man lies asleep in a single bed in the middle of a small and humble room. He is frail. The skin on his arms is white and hangs loose, pocked and patchworked with wrinkles. His breathing is shallow and each exhalation rasps its escape into the world, before being dragged back into desperate lungs. A young man sits at the side of the bed, watching the Elderly Man sleep, unmoving. After a short while, the elderly man’s eyes open.

Sam: You’re awake.

The Elderly Man chuckles.

Elderly Man: Yes it appears I am, and what a surprise to find someone else here. Do you enjoy watching old men sleep?

Sam: What? No, I was just told to sit here with you until you awoke.

Elderly Man: Told by who?

Sam’s lips bunch together in thought.

Sam: It was, it was… You know what I don’t know. Now you mention it, I’m not even sure how I got in here. Are we somewhere near Butanta?

Elderly Man: Butanta? Ha! There’s a place I haven’t thought about for some time. This is most certainly not Butanta young man. Can’t you see the radiators are bursting at the seams just to keep us from freezing?

Sam is looking more and more confused as he looks around the room, his expression turning into one of mild disbelief.

Elderly Man: What’s your name?

Sam: Sam, my name’s Sam.

The Elderly Man’s eyes open slightly wider for a moment, and then his face relaxes into a gentle smile.

Elderly Man: Ahh, Good name, Sam.

Sam: It does the business.

Elderly Man: I’m sure it does. How old are you Sam, somewhere in your mid 20s?

Sam: Yep, I’m 25.

Elderly Man: And you say you’re in Butanta? To the west of Sao Paulo if I’m not mistaken, that concrete forest of Brazil.

Sam: Exactly right, have you been?

Elderly Man: Some time ago I visited. So what are you doing Sam? You look like a man with a plan.

Sam: A plan? Well I’ve had many plans, but I don’t have the plan or anything like that. Honestly I’m not even sure planning is for me. I mean, there’s something funny about a making plan, isn’t there? It’s like I’m saying to the world ‘look here you, this is how things are going to be’ and then, more times than not, the world’s like ‘Nope.’

Elderly Man: So you’ve relinquished planning altogether? What on earth do you do with your days?

Sam: No I haven’t relinquished it, I still set daily tasks that need doing and make schedules which I rarely follow. They’re more like guidelines.

Elderly Man: Are you working towards something?

Sam: I suppose so, I’m writing a lot at the moment which is something. I’m also developing a project, although I’m reluctant to give it a name, as it’s not really taken a shape yet. But it’s about talking.

Elderly Man: Talking? Like this, what we’re doing here?

Sam: Sure, all kinds of talking.

Elderly Man: Is there much money in talking?

Sam: I suppose it depends on what you’re saying.

The Elderly Man laughs

Elderly Man: Good point. Can you tell me anything more?

Sam: Well it’s about connection. How we connect. How we create things together. Where intimacy comes from. It’s like a web to me, a really curious web.

Elderly Man: And what’s at centre of this web?

Sam: Some kind of silence maybe. Have you ever had an experience where someone’s given you a space to open? A space where your contradictions, your anxieties and perspectives, your angers and passions, all come out and smash against each other, and within the space you’ve been given they can find some kind of harmony. It’s like the person has emptied themselves to make room for you, a kind of deep hospitality, like they’re hosting your soul.

Elderly Man: That’s an amazing description. And I know exactly what you’re talking about.

Sam: Well that’s my project. It’s got no aims. No timelines. No budget. No earnings. But it’s held my curiosity for long enough.

Elderly Man: Well that’s one of the most valuable currencies of all.

Sam laughs lightly

Sam: Exactly, but tell me about you. I’m running completely counter to my own project by talking so much. And I’m sure you have much more interesting things to say than me. I don’t even know your name!

Elderly Man: No need Sam, I’ve talked enough for a lifetime. No, I’d rather hear about you. You’ve told me the project, what’s the dream?

Sam: There’s more of a dream for a dream.

Elderly Man: Ah are you in one of those ‘what am I going to do with my life?’ moments?

Sam: Perhaps it’s more of a ‘what’s life going to do with me?’ moment.

The Elderly Man smiles widely.

Elderly Man: I love the distinction. But carry that on and don’t we find ourself with the answer? That life will do what it wants with you, and has no obligation or need to tell you anything of it?

Sam: Absolutely, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to know does it? Part of me is desperate to know. When I find myself sat doing nothing, relaxed and at ease, that’s when it strikes. “Why aren’t you doing something Sam?!” It asks. And I jolt out of my daze madly thinking Have to do something, anything! What needs doing? I’m going to do the shit of it! It’s quite funny, but ultimately destructive. So yes, I agree with you completely, but it seems that not all of me agrees with you. That sounds odd when I say it out loud. Does is make any sense?

Elderly Man: It does. If you agreed totally with yourself, why there’d be nothing left to do. This conversation you’re clearly having with your persona and the deeper layers of your conscious, this is the point itself. Call them what you want, but it sounds like you need to shine a light on those deeply held beliefs that are pulling and pushing you.

Sam: So is it the case that my ‘deeply held beliefs’ just haven’t caught up with me yet?

Elderly Man: I don’t think so, because you are your deeply held beliefs, whether you think you agree with them or not. If you resist them, you define them and, paradoxically, you don’t allow them to change. In my experience you must accept them before you can begin the process of change.

Sam: But how can I accept them if I don’t believe in them?

Elderly Man: I don’t have the answer for that, for the question and the answer are yours alone. But let me ask you to be specific about what you’re trying to change. What names can you give to these beliefs?

Sam: Sharing that sort of thing is no way to make friends.

Elderly Man: And deceiving people will?

Sam: I didn’t say that.

Elderly Man: Perhaps you implied it.

Sam looks downwards to the floor, his eyes glazed. After a moment he releases a deep breath, his shoulders falling.

Sam: Perhaps I did. But these aren’t positive beliefs, they’re wrong to have. I don’t want them. I don’t want to associate with them. I certainly don’t want to be them. I don’t want to have anything to do with them. They aren’t me.

Elderly Man: Why shouldn’t they be you? If they’re affecting you so much, it seems to me they certainly are you.

Sam: Because I don’t like them, and I don’t like what’s within them, and no-one could like them. They hold bad intentions. They do not care or love. They are selfish.

Elderly Man: Speak them, stop hiding them behind your judgements.

Sam: Fine, I can look to a friend and hear about something beautiful, something amazing they are doing, and I can feel poison and ash; I can feel that I don’t want that beautiful thing to exist; I can feel like such beautiful things are only an expression of what I cannot have. The world is full and I am empty of it. I can resent love. I can envy success. I can hold what exists in my life jealously, trying to hoard it from the constant change. I can feel spiteful and prideful, building an image of my superior self in my mind, an ugly castle of wet sand, and letting no one close to it lest it topple down and leave me with nothing.

Sam is breathing heavily, in and out through his nose, his eyes closed.

Elderly Man: You feel ashamed?

Sam: Of course I feel ashamed. Can you hear what lives within these words? This admittance of the ugliest of desires, the desire to have others suffer like I suffer; that I may not be alone. The desire to close myself up, to hold onto everything I hold so no other may share it; the desire that I be better than, always better than, which is itself soaked by the unfailing knowledge that I am not, that I can’t be, that all the effort is for naught. What am I doing? I do, what is that? Doing. So much doing. So many ‘to dos’. So many ‘need to dos’. So many ‘need to need to dos’. It’s unbearable.

With visible effort the old man rises into a seated position.

Elderly Man: Rest there. Stop. Feel what you’re feeling. Let it wash over you. Let it sit within you. This is you. It’s hurt. It’s lonely. Not because of the world. But because you have isolated it. It does not need to win. It does not need to be better. It needs love, and it will always need love until it gets it from the only person that matters here. It is a child scared of the world, alone in the forest, waiting to be found.

The Elderly Man starts to cough, deep chesty coughs. His body shakes with each. Sam looks up eyes widened.

Sam: Sir, sir are you ok? Who can I get? Are there nurses here? A neighbour?

The elderly man’s coughs become intermittent, his body stilling, and gradually they stop.

Elderly Man: I need neither. Do not worry for the coughs of a dying man. They are as natural as the contractions of child birth. They are as natural as the inner turmoil of a young man seeking his place in the world, a young man I can tell has the capacity for great love, if he would just stop and wait for it.

Sam: But don’t you need help?

Elderly Man: Held dying? Ha! I have needed the help of others at every stage of my life. This is one thing I feel prepared for. Besides, I have you to help me.

Sam: I’m no doctor, I won’t be able to resuscitate you.

Elderly Man: I’m in no need of being brought back. If I need to stay a little longer, I will.

Sam: You are so sure of these things, where does your confidence come from?

Elderly Man: It comes from trust, trust that whatever is needed will already be in what is.

Sam: Can you lend me your mentality? I’d be free of all this worry so quickly!

Elderly Man: Actually you wouldn’t, because your being ‘free’ depends on you doing the work. Imagine that I give you an immensely complicated maths question and then tell you the answer to it. What use is the answer? None! Because you don’t even understand the question.

Sam: After this conversation I’m never going to believe I’m right again.

Elderly Man: Good! Why would you want to believe you were right? Believing you could be wrong is far more generative.

Sam: So what I hear is that I need to stop looking, because I don’t know what I’m looking for, and I need to accept that I’m a terrible human being if I’m ever to become, at the very least, an average human being.

The Elderly Man chuckles

Elderly Man: It’s fantastic how active that mind of yours is, already trying to find a ‘need to do’ for itself.

Sam: Damn it! It’s so sneaky.

Elderly Man: It will run circles round you many times yet, but don’t worry. You’ll become wise to it.

Sam: So I need to.. No. I stop. That’s it. I stop. There’s no need.

Elderly Man: That’s going somewhere interesting at least. Stop and listen perhaps. Listen properly, without trying to hear. I remember a line from a poem I read when I was your age, ‘there is a voice that doesn’t use words. Listen.’

Sam: I know that line!

Elderly Man: Well use its lessons. And when you hear that mind of yours telling you what you need to do, give it attention, look into it and you will see its ridiculousness. You’re a writer you said. But are you the greatest writer in the world? No. Do you need to release a novel? No. Do you need to be a good writer? No. Just write. That is why you write. The writing. So write. Leave the rest to the world, you don’t need it to write.

Sam: I can see it now, it’s clear. But what happens when it’s no longer clear? What do I do then?

Elderly Man: Close your eyes, sit up straight.

Sam sits a little straighter in his seat and closes his eyes.

Elderly Man: See what happens when you stop. Don’t try to stop, trying is not the same as stopping. Just stop. Breath. Be aware. Feel your body.

The light slowly closes in until only Sam is visible on the stage. He sits silently, completely still, for the next moments. A single, quiet heart beat is heard. The stage goes black. All is silent.