The Dark Tower:
Part Two Chapter 6.i-9.iii
As of this posting there are only five more readings before we finish the series. The end is coming, coming fast, and all of a sudden I find myself dreading it. I started this blog by apologizing to the gunslinger, because I felt guilty for sending Roland around the wheel of ka once more, putting him through all this pain for my own entertainment. Then, as it always does, the story began to work it’s magic on me and I became swept away, forgetting all about the fates I was dooming my dear fictional friend to by continuing to read. Once again I forgot what this part of the journey feels like, and once again I am about to learn and learn hard.
Of course, I found my own dread reflected back at me in this week’s pages, as the gunslingers feel the pall of ka-shume fall over their little camp in the Steek Tete cave. And I don’t think that’s an accident; I believe that King knew his readers would be feeling this way—he was almost certainly feeling it himself, knowing what he had to write next—and decided to address it directly, to give it a name in the high speech and share it with his characters as they share khef, so we wouldn’t have to feel it alone.
Roland and his companions aren’t the only ones feeling ka-shume, either. Down in Algul Siento, Pimli Prentiss and Finli o’Tego are also experiencing a sense of anxiety as they enter the end game of their assignment. They don’t refer to it in the High Speech—they say “hinky-di-di”—and they mistake it for jitters, when it is in fact intuition that their own ka-tet is about to be smashed to pieces by Roland’s.
“We always knew things were going to get wacky at the end,” Finli said, “so I tell myself that’s all this is. This . . . you know . . .”– Finli o’Tego, The Dark Tower, p. 192
Whatever you want to call it, ka-shume or hinky-di-di, it’s a feeling we can all relate to in our own lives. Life is nothing but a series of beginnings and endings, sandwiched between the most extreme examples of both—birth and death—and when we sense that the end of something we love is imminent, we start feeling bad before it even happens; an emotional preemptive strike.
If you’re not a regular reader of this blog, you wouldn’t know that earlier this year my family and I sold our house in Los Angeles and moved to Barbados, where my father’s been living since 2016. The plan was to stay for six months and then return to the states, and when we arrived that seemed like an impossibly far-off date. And now, we fly back to America on Saturday. We’re all in our feelings a little bit, bracing ourselves for that fast-approaching moment when we’ll have to say goodbye to this wonderful island, to my father, and to the free babysitting services he provides.
On a much larger scale, it’s hard to wake up every day in 2021 and not feel a little bit of ka-shume when you log into Twitter or Facebook. Between the climate crisis, the pandemic, and every other awful thing in between, there’s a very apocalyptic vibe in the air right now. And even if we weren’t worried about those things, the very awareness of our own mortality would fill us with the same morose sense of doom anyway. It’s the curse of knowing that all things eventually end.
What do we do with this feeling? Do we fight against it? Do we wallow in it? Try to ignore it? It doesn’t seem particularly helpful, does it? This emotional Spidey-sense that prolongs our anxiety and puts a damper on the final moments of whatever we’re pre-mourning, moments we should be trying to savor and enjoy. Yet, without this phenomenon of ka-shume, perhaps we would be blindsided by these endings and goodbyes, hurt twice as hard because we are unprepared for the pain.
No, it wouldn’t be prudent to repress ka-shume, even if you could. We should acknowledge it, yes, but we shouldn’t prevent ourselves from enjoying the remainder of what we’re losing. As the ka-tet share water and khef, expressing their love for one another, we should do the same with those we are preparing to say goodbye to. If there’s someone you’re going to miss when you go, share a cigarette with them like Roland and Jake.
“Nothing’s wrong,” Roland said, smiling, but Jake had never heard the gunslinger sound so sad. It terrified him. “It’s only ka-shume, and it comes to every ka-tet that ever was . . . but now, while we are whole, we share our water. We share our khef. ’Tis a jolly thing to do.”– The Dark Tower, p. 210
And most importantly, know that whatever end you are dreading, is the beginning of something new. My family and I are sad to leave Barbados and part ways with my father, but we are also looking forward to starting fresh in the States, where we’ll get to create a new home..
Maybe that doesn’t help with the more macro sense of ka-shume I get from doom-scrolling social media, but remembering the Epilogue to this book does. Knowing that after the ka-tet breaks and Susannah has endured unmeasurable suffering, she will eventually drive through Patrick’s door only to find herself reunited with new versions of Eddie and Jake. That scene in Central Park shows us that when we finally reach the clearing at the end of our path, we might just find more path.