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The Convalescent


Carolus-Duran, Le convalescent 1860


1. The worst thing about being sick is that you feel so terribly alone. Not existential solitude or anything dramatic or profound like that; but just literally alone. Take this past weekend (and possibly till tomorrow by the looks of it): I've grounded myself; have been unable to join my family for dinner out on Saturday, Mass and lunch yesterday; couldn't go out with a friend; cancelled a date. I've basically limited myself to bed or to the sofa (tired of rest, my back hurts already) watching television or DVDs (can't concentrate enough to be able to read), though was able to respond to a friend's article yesterday (see below) in a spurt of energy, but generally I feel like an invalid. If only I were with other invalids too! Now you know why they bunch up the sick together: not only to deliver the healthy from them but to deliver them from the healthy toward whom they only have resentment. Thus the exile of sickness, one without remedy or memory--you take a load of meds that don't work and you sadly forget what it feels like to be unsick. But I do not know if being a convalescent, what I feel I am right now, is better than being an invalid. Caught between death and health, stretched between weakness and strength, I also hate this recovery business: my body is so indecisive.


2. But what I do remember every time I get sick is to respect the body. Not just to take care of it better by placing my vices in check, eating healthy and all that rundown however important (at the end or all too late) logic--but to recognize it: that it exists and that it has power over me--sometimes. Otherwise, I am not my body and my will and my mind are stronger than it. The body can only have power over the intellect and the will only as limitations, as obstructions, but never as having its own anti-power which goes against it, as if it has a power at all on its own, when it is just an organic machine which I still decide whether to run or not. Mechanistic? Perhaps. But if there has been one challenge that I continually face, it is to overcome my body, especially its faulty wiring. Am I then the ghost in the machine? Again, perhaps. But I cannot say that I am a soul or an intellect inside the housing of a body--where has this problem led philosophers to but aporias? Neither body nor soul, what am I? I'm sorry but I'll have to go with Descartes on this one.


3. When you're in bed for a long time as you recover, you cannot but picture your end. Say I shall die a slow death, requiring me to be bed-ridden for months or even years, would I allow that to happen? Take away the most usual occurrence that those who love you and take care of you will naturally do everything in their power to sustain you and keep you going for as long as possible. Fine, thank you. But how about me? the one who goes through the whole comedy of watching the days pass by from an unchanging point of view, already dying with boredom that no amount of television shows or books can ameliorate, watching death at the door and time gasping its own last breaths. Yes, I'm still young, I know and you say that I do not know what I am saying. To the contrary. I just do not want to go lying down. Better to die on one's feet than to live on one's knees (Camus).


4. A friend asked me not so long ago with all too sudden seriousness which did not go well with the white wine she was having and the cold beer in my hand whether I was ready to go or not. Without a moment's pause, I said yes. I said yes, to clarify, not because I'm done with all what I want to do or because I do not love those who I will leave behind--in reality, I'm more afraid of the death of those I love than of my own. I said yes, well, because I said I'm just ready--anytime. Pardon the cliche but I think there is no other way to live than to be ready to die anytime; otherwise, you're just fooling yourself, imagining immortality, holding on to things temporal. If Nietzsche exhorts us to die at the right time, and the "right time" could only be arbitrary, so anytime should be a good time. But of course this does not entail longing for death, wanting it, deploying it, realizing it. Death means the end of a story, the ripening of the fruit, the closing of the circle, the 30 of the writer, etc.--so it's still time's call, not mine. I'm just ready--and I do not know why. Perhaps because I've already died and I'm already on my second, gratuitous, life.



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