I am now 18 days past my surgery. I have met and exceeded my therapeutic benchmark of a 20 minute mile, but I am easily exhausted and still caught in reveries I wish I could transcribe directly from my mind. By the time I sit down to write such thoughts, it seems that some search for information or news online eclipses my urge to write just in time such thoughts to evaporate.
I’ve accomplished two things which are notable to me over the past three days, and I will admit that I’m uncertain which is more important. First, I chopped up a large container of vegetables for snacking:
at which point I wonder if it is alright to end a sentence with a photo. Is such punctuation permissible as our cultural tendency toward multimedia communication has grown in permanence?
My second feat was reading Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. At this juncture I offer the shameful admission that I have seldom read fiction over the past twenty years. At that point, I felt defeated in realizing that it was improbable that anyone’s lifetime, let alone mine, would endure so long to read enough other canonical works of fiction and critical works thereof to inform my reading of future works of literary fiction. Since I hadn’t read (and the examples are legion, really), any Milton, Hardy, or Foucault by my mid-20’s, wasn’t my critical ship permanently lost at sea by that point? If I couldn’t even commit to an Oxford comma, why bother writing at all, at least no more than is necessary?
It may seem odd that I’d elevate the cutting of vegetables to the reading of a novel, but such tension is ever present in my life. My body needs the nutrients in those vegetables just as much as my mind craved the words of that book. I have struggled to feed my mind properly more than I have struggled to nourish my body as it needs.
I highly recommend eating as many vegetables as you can stand and taking the time to read a book that could crack your mind wide open. Lincoln in the Bardo was such a book for me.
This novel looks more like a draft for a play or movie with a cast that an editor would demand be shorn a bit for the sake of clarity. It is as if Saunders knew that his work could never be perfect, yet the ideas within demanded release to the world nonetheless.
The majority of the people in this novel are already dead before the narrative begins. They are lingering in this realm concurrent to the death of Willie Lincoln, and they witness his funeral and Abraham Lincoln’s acute mourning at the loss of his young son. They must convince Willie to do what each of them has been unable yet to do, to move on from this life.
While this novel is set during the Civil War, it reminds one that there are basic human concerns that endure through every era. No matter what time and place contains your lifetime, you will know both joy and agony, and certainly not in equal measure. As I read this book, I considered once again that while there are plenty of remedies for pain, we need none for pleasure. For example, no one has had an orgasm so stunning as to require anesthesia.
Everyone suffers, and our suffering is only amplified when we cling to that which holds us back from transformation. Yes, our lives are ripe with opportunities for change, yet we are usually tempted to do the impossible, to stop the inevitably of change. This can take simple forms, such as insisting one is permanently right about something, which is also impossible.
I consider how in my youth I wasted time agonizing over how I would love someone and be so dissatisfied at how they cared for me in return. Why can’t my father be a dad that hugs? Why can’t this friend of mine fall in love with me as I have with him? I tilted at that windmill time and again, each battle leaving me feeling more and more unlovable. Then I had my daughter and fell to earth on this matter. What matters is that I love, and it is a fool’s mission to dwell of how someone else feels about me. We are incapable of knowing the reality of anyone’s feelings but our own. We can look for various clues and signs of reciprocity, put the devotion of another to the test by being our worst or best for that person, but such endeavors are pointless.
The reward of love is the feeling itself and what it inspires you to do for those you love.
This is true balm for suffering, to love without care for its return.