The End of A Party > IDEAS & IDEALS

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The End of A Party

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                 I try not to fail to join up with my mountain-climbing friends every Sunday. The group consists of seven of us who are retired from active work. We are of the same age, and went to the same school. Mountain-climbing is a serious sport, a kind of physical exercise, a hard, dangerous and strenuous one. But as so many elderly mountain-climbers in our country understand it these days, it has become sort of like hiking, a pastime, a weekly ritual and a social gathering. Now, many people go to the mountains regularly for the fun of meeting friends, talking and laughing than for climbing. We are not  the exception.

                 I was once a serious mountain-climber when I was young. Nothing satisfied my ego more than to be physically faster and stronger than the others. To be out of breath was painful pleasure. I have ascended almost all of the high mountains in the country, seen the views and descended. I used to come home physically exhausted, but the exhaustion immediately gave birth to fresh energy and the desire to go farther and higher the next morning. I didn't need to go with my friends. Rather, I wanted to be alone in the mountains, and I loved, more than anything else, the solitude they provided. I thought I could possibly understand why Jesus preached one of his best sermons on the mountain. To be alone at the peak of a high mountain after a strenuous physical struggle and agony was a particular experience, probably a religious one.

                But now I am no longer a mountain climber. I am satisfied with myself as a jolly mountain-goer or a mountain-walker, as a sitter on a flat rock or under the trees. I don't like to be alone. I need company. Even solitude is not what it used to be. Age has changed many my likes and dislikes. The pleasure of talking and laughing with friends has replaced that of strenuous physical exercise. Young man, don't laugh at me. I myself would have laughed at me or even despised me if I had had the present picture of me at that time.

                Sunday approaches. The captain of our mountain-going team calls to remind each of us of the name of the mountain we are going to, and of the exact time and the place we are to meet. I know, however, that the ulterior motive of his notification and confirmation lies elsewhere: to check the possibility of any member's absence in advance. We all know that he is very authoritative and is easily hurt and very angry if any of us (his followers) do not show up at the week's gathering. In fact, we had already agreed at the previous gathering as to the mountain we would conquer next and the subway exit number we would meet at.

              I feel the captain's voice suddenly soften to learn that that I am coming without fail this Sunday. Although we vow every time we meet that we should place in our life hereafter on our health, and agree unanimously that nothing can be better or more important for keeping and improving our health than this regular mountain outing, there always occur one or two absentees for various reasons and excuses at short notice. And, like all leaders, our captain also demands our absolute obedience, and any absence of members from the weekly gathering is considered to be a grave disobedience to him and a serious challenge and defiance of his authority. My promise to be present at this week's expedition has surely gladdened him immensely.

             The captain knows also how to prevent me (or any other member) from breaking the promise at short notice under any unexpected as well as plausible excuses. He throws an irresistible temptation to each. Suppressing his emotion with effort, he casually says that there will be a bottle of French cognac this time. Some of us always carry some kinds of alcoholic beverage in our backpacks whenever we meet, but cognac is no ordinary thing. He does not reveal who will bring it, but I know who he is. It must be S, who has returned from a trip abroad for about half a month with his wife. He, therefore, had to be absent from our weekly gathering twice on end, and he had to atone somehow for this sin to alleviate the captain's displeasure as well as our jealousy by any means. Nay, he is such a good-natured guy that he must have felt sorry for us left behind who were suffering in the deadly summer heat, while he had such a heavenly time with his wife alone on the Hawaiian beach.

              Anyway, there will be a cognac this time without fail. My nose and tongue tingle at the fragrance and flavor of it already. And I could picture the roaring party in the mountain on Sunday over a bottle of very expensive French cognac. I could imagine the shining faces, particularly that of M, the life and blood of our party, who is fond of, nay, too fond of drinking. I could almost hear his unique interjections after swallowing the first portin at a gulp.

              To the captain's great satisfaction and happiness, all were present at the party last Sunday. But, to our dismay and horror, there were no interjections from M this time. He refused to drink even one drop of cognac. He told us with a seeming composure that he was scheduled to have some kind of surgery on his stomach in two weeks. At first, we did not believe what he said, but the disappearance of his high spirit and conviviality from his face and voice told everything. All of us were at a loss for words momentarily before the unexpected development of the situation. We tried to be cheerful and talked and laughed as if nothing had happened, but all sounded hollow and vain.

             Descending the mountain path in silence, each of us fell into his own thought. There were already signs of summer giving way to autumn. We omitted the remaining schedule down in the town and went home. At home, I could not fall into that easy sleep that used to follow after Sunday's workout. Hereafter, the mountain party without M would be possible, but it would not be the same as before. No longer would there be as much frivolous, funny and easy talking and laughing with M being sober and unwell for the time being, nay, for good. Then, Is the party over? Must I, then, follow the drift of things and yield, bow and accept the end of a love, a season or a party, like this? I felt warm tears gathering in my closed eyes.
                                                                              (September 7, 2005)



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