One morning I got up feeling sullen, sad, disconcerted, and fatigued by idleness, with what seemed to be a desire to do some grand and radiant deed! And then I opened my window, alas!
The first person I noticed on looking out my window was a glazier, a glass-seller, the sharp discordance of his cries drifting up to me through the stale and heavy Parisian smog. It’s not possible for me to say why I was filled with such a sudden and tyrannical hatred for this poor man.
“Hey, hey!” I cried, motioning for him to come up. Not without pleasure did I reflect that my room was on the sixth floor and that he would climb those flights with difficulty, lest his fragile goods be damaged.
At last he appeared. With great curiosity I examined all of his panes and finally said: “What? You have no colored glass? No pinks, no reds, no blues, no magical panes? No panes of the gods? Impudent creature! You sell your wares to the poor, and yet you have no panes that are able to make life beautiful!” And I abruptly pushed him, groaning and stumbling, out to the stairs.
I then went out on my balcony and grabbed a small flowerpot; when the man reappeared at the door I let my engine of war fall right on the back of his pack, the reverberations from the impact sending him reeling. Falling on his back he managed to break all of his poor, portable merchandise with a crash akin to lightning striking a crystal palace!
And intoxicated by madness I screamed furiously: “Make life beautiful! Make life beautiful!”
Though such capricious endeavors are not without peril, and one must often pay dearly for them, what does an eternity of damnation compare with an infinity of pleasure in a single second?
It was useless to try to do anything. One could only watch the extraordinary efforts made by those tiny legs against an oncoming doom which could, had it chosen, have submerged an entire city, not merely a city, but masses of human beings; nothing, I knew, had any chance against death. Nevertheless after a pause of exhaustion the legs fluttered again. It was superb this last protest, and so frantic that he succeeded at last in righting himself.
The body relaxed, and instantly grew stiff. The struggle was over. The insignificant little creature now knew death. As I looked at the dead moth, this minute wayside triumph of so great a force over so mean an antagonist filled me with wonder. Just as life had been strange a few minutes before, so death was now as strange. The moth having righted himself now lay most decently and uncomplainingly composed. O yes, he seemed to say, death is stronger than I am.
I first read this essay in 2011. It made no impression on me then, but upon re-reading just now I found myself laughing–in awe of the moth, same as Woolf. Facing down the thanatotic city-swallower, and righting himself with dignity. “O yes!” Would that we could all do the same!
Along similar lines, I’m so pleased that I’m different from my 21 year-old self. We don’t often get guarantees, but revisiting art allows us moments like this.
“I can’t recalled how many buttcheeks and fronts I rubbed,” a “FAN” of Tropical 128 wrote on Yelp, about a January evening at the establishment. Some of those cheeks belonged to “hot chicks which was okay I guess.” Other cheeks impressed him less.
From this New Yorker blurb about my favorite bar in New York City. Ah, man, this takes me back. Er, uh– front? Hm.
“Shit,” I said. “I have cancer.”
“Well,” my doctor said, “these kinds of tumors are usually noncancerous. And they grow very slowly, so in six months or so, we’ll do another MRI. Don’t worry. You’re going to be okay.”
“What about my hearing?” I asked.
“We don’t know what might be causing the hearing loss, but you should start a course of Prednisone, the steroid, just to go with the odds. Your deafness might lessen if left alone, but we’ve had success with the steroids in bringing back hearing. There are side effects, like insomnia, weight gain, night sweats, and depression.”
“Oh, boy,” I said. “Those side effects might make up most of my personality already. Will the ‘roids also make me quick to pass judgment? And I’ve always wish I had a dozen more skin tags and moles.”
The doctor chuckled. “You’re a funny man.”
I wanted to throw my phone into a wall but I said good-bye instead and glared at the tumorless people and their pretty tumorless heads.
– Sherman Alexie, “War Dances” from War Dances
I’d never read anything by Alexie until this essay and, I gotta say, I think I’d cope with a diagnosis somewhat similarly. Looking forward to learning how else we might align.