The Pleasures of an Untasted Beer

“How can not drinking the beer be satisfying?” a member of my audience asked with irritation. She was reacting to another person at my book discussion in the local library who was a hospice volunteer. She had just told a story about one of her patients, who I’ll call Seth. He had described to the volunteer his urge to have a beer in such nostalgic terms, the advertising department of any brewery would have loved to get ahold of the words he poured out. On the next visit, the volunteer brought the longed-for beverage, presumably after getting medical clearance. It was in a thoroughly chilled can, its thin coating of moisture revealing its recent history of refrigeration. Seth’s hands reached out as the volunteer approached, her hands meeting his until the transfer was made complete. She could hardly wait to see the pleasure he would have as the prized liquid hit his tongue. But simply holding it and rolling it in his hands sufficed. He was too weak to drink it, or not thirsty. Yet he was contented as anyone who had had their fill of their favorite kind of beer at some pleasing backdrop such as an outing with their buddies to the playoffs or a school reunion picnic.

“How could just holding the can be enough?” the doubter kept persisting. This sufficed to get the discussion flowing liberally. “Of course,” someone else put in. “Don’t you see? Seth saw the beer and enjoyed the cool sensation of the can.”

“Yeah,” someone else added. “Seeing the beer probably brought back memories of all those good times he had when he could drink it. And you know, he must have liked the volunteer going to the trouble to bring it to him.”

I sealed up this discussion by remarking that when people get close to dying, more and more subtle things can please them. In the excerpt from Encountering the Edge that I had read to them prior to the volunteer’s story, the link between beer and its consumption was twice removed: With nary a can of beer in sight because Sam was not allowed to have it, I sang, In heaven there is no beer, that’s why we drink it here. The smile on his face reflected all the contentment of a beer connoisseur who had successfully demonstrated his own sensitivity to subtle variations in flavor.

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4 thoughts on “The Pleasures of an Untasted Beer

  1. DJ says:

    “You Don’t Have to be at Death’s Door to Savor Less Than The Real Thing”

    When I went backpacking this summer for a week on a rugged trail on Vancouver Island called the North Coast Trail I anticipated a beer every evening. Unfortunately we did not carry any “beer refreshments” on our backs for the week. Instead we only drank filtered water. I could taste that cold beer every night.

    First stop on the bus that picked us up at the end of the trail to take us back to civilizations is a small pub about 90 minutes away in the middle of nowhere. The pub is the social gathering place for a town of less than a 100 people. Anticipating that beer was almost as good as having it. Having that beer was a celebration of surviving “The North Coast Trail” the toughest backpacking trip that I have done so far.

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  2. “The more subtle things can please.” Nice line, Karen. Something we might all learn to practice! Happy to hear booksignings are going well. You deserve the recognition.

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  3. Why, thank you! It seems that the mindfulness that meditators and therapists, etc. encourage us to develop for a higher quality of life, unfortunately is put off by many people until they are very sick or near the end. I once read for example of a person who rejoiced in watching the pattern of rain drops streaming down his window. Think how rich are lives could be if we had more such experiences when we felt healthy and/or had more time to live.

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