I’ve been thinking about death lately–not thinking, but feeling death, deeply at times, in my heart and gut. For the last six weeks, I’ve battled an ulcerative colitis flare. The symptoms are scary; naturally, they often inspire dark feelings.
In the past, whenever my illness has flared, I’ve battled, angrily, against what I perceived to be life’s cruel injustice. Recently, when I’ve experience symptoms, I flop on the couch, take a nap. Waking up, I feel successful, as if my purpose, all along, had been naps, and the recent flare a timely jolt, pointing me to that gilded road.
Of course, for better or worse, I like to think my true purpose is language. And in this, as in my gut, I’m feeling inflamed. Writing recently, when I can, I’ve felt immeasurably confident, as if some mythological force were rising up inside of me; as if, in writing, I was boxing illness.
Which makes me wonder: Do I welcome illness, like fuel?
I can’t possibly be doing so on a conscious level. I desperately do not want to feel ill. I want to feel healthy, alive, summery. And yet, when I do feel healthy, I also feel less obliged to work, less inflamed in my work.
I’m writing from my father’s beach house, in Brigantine, NJ. The place is packed with family: parents, siblings, nieces, nephews. I’m sitting on the deck, now, outside my room’s sliding glass door. From my seat, I hear the waves crashing on the beach. I haven’t slept much since coming down. I’ve drank too much wine. And yet, I do feel revivified by the weekend’s images.
on my friend, Luke Storm’s, facebook profile.
On Friday, at home, we glimpsed the season’s first fireflies. We were sitting on the porch, at dusk, when we glimpsed one, two, three lime-green lights floating in the air.
On Saturday, after work, we zoomed here, to my Dad’s place at the beach, just in time to eat a late dinner and catch the last innings of Roy Halladay’s perfect game. There have been twenty perfect games in professional baseball’s long, long history. I’ve shared two with my Dad.
The first, on July 19, 1999, was a hot and humid Sunday. The day had started with grief. Earlier that week, my father’s best friend of forty-five years had ended his own life. The funeral was a small, irreligious affair at my his daughter’s house. We huddled in a small room and remembered my father’s best friend in stories and song. When my father spoke, we huddled around him in fierce protection. He laughed. He cried. I had never seen my father so aggrieved. I had never admired him so much—his grace, his equanimity. That day, on the ride home, we caught the Yankees game on the radio. David Cone was pitching a perfect game. We drove home, listening to the radio in rapt attention, and then, at home, we huddled around the television. When Cone threw the final pitch, my father shouted, “Yes!”
The second perfect game was Halladay’s. Coming, as it did, on my first beach night of the season, it felt like a glorious prelude, and I couldn’t help but think of Cone’s game, and feel a bit hopeful, as I pumped my fist, and shouted, “Yes.”
Yesterday, Sunday, we took a boat ride along the waterways, in and out of the canals, from Somers Point to Brigantine, and then a swift ride back to Somers Point on the open sea. Zooming by, I looked right, to the red and yellow and blue umbrellas dotting the beach, and left, to that point on the horizon where sky meets water: the immense blueness.
On board, I read Moby Dick on my iPhone.
“Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.”
Speaking of Moby Dick, and other diffuse novels, my friend Josh Billings once wrote: “Their hidden gift to the reader is not a plot, but the capacity for plotmaking – that is, the ability to find significance in our lives and knit ourselves up into novels of meaning and passion and interest.”
I think the images from this weekend, in part, seem meaningful to me because I’ve read and welcomed a book like Moby Dick into my heart. I agree, there is meaning, in plotmaking. My duty, I believe, is to discover meaning, in reading and living and writing.
Sometimes meaning smacks me in the face. Roy Halladay’s perfect game seemed like a perfect symbol: The beginning of a perfect summer.
Sometimes meaning remains vague. How do I find meaning in the failures of my body?
I’m tired of illness. The way it captivates me, like cinema. The way it makes me feel everything in life is nothing, that life is, after all, meant for naps. And sometimes I think: I’m done with illness–tonight, tomorrow, forever! Bring on the wine nights of the past, bring on the guitar, bring on 3 a.m.! I’m bursting back on the scene, like Dionysus, born twice, from the flesh of my own gut.
And yet, I’m not sure I’d feel so inflamed without illness. It’s like a red-hot prod, poking me. I mean, why do this weekend’s images move me to fist-pumping hope? What am I hoping against? I can’t begin to answer these questions, now.
I can only do what I do: write, read, flop down and take a nap.