Sunday, April 10, 2011

`A Pleasure Beyond Compare'

In February it started as a lima bean just above my right elbow. A lump, that’s all, no discoloration, a flicker of pain when bumped. I forgot about it until last week in Houston when it morphed into an ugly, sensitive plum. Saturday morning the doctor, who suspects MRSA, drained the abscess, gave me a mega-dose of antibiotics in the rear end and prescribed two more for the next ten days.

I’ve been spoiled by unthinking, horse-like good health, and a glorified pimple does little to shake my complacency. I’m grateful, especially when I see the suffering others live with, but I’ve done nothing to earn my salubriousness. It just happens, like baldness or a cheery disposition, and few subjects of conversation turn tedious more quickly than the contemporary obsession with nutrition and a “healthy lifestyle.” I’m not necessarily against those things but I think we have more interesting things to talk about.

My companion at the doctor’s office and since has been Yoshida Kenkō (1283?-1350?), author of the Tsurezuregusa, translated by Donald Keene as Essays in Idleness (1967). He was an officer of the guards at the Imperial palace who late in life became a Buddhist monk and something of a hermit. I feel a temperamental affinity for some of what I know about Buddhism, though I’m repelled intellectually. Most of the Western adherents I’ve known don’t help their case. Smugness is never attractive though Kenkō often is, as when he writes:

“The full moon does not keep its roundness even a little while; it at once begins to wane. The man indifferent to such things may not see much change in the course of a single night. The worsening of an illness too does not pause in its headlong course, until the hour of death approaches. However, as long as a man’s illness is not so critical that he is actually confronted by death, he grows accustomed to the idea that life will go on much the same forever, and only after he has accomplished many things in this life will he turn to quiet practice of the Way.”

In Kenkō, with his lack of pretensions and gently modulated Taoism, I find comfort. His “essays,” which they are not in Montaigne’s sense, suggest human convergence. There’s a man behind the words, a shrewd, life-bruised individual we come to know. In this sense he is kin to Montaigne. Elsewhere he writes:

“To sit alone in the lamplight with a book spread out before you, and hold intimate converse with men of unseen generations—such is a pleasure beyond compare.”


zmkc said...

“To sit alone in the lamplight with a book spread out before you, and hold intimate converse with men of unseen generations—such is a pleasure beyond compare.”
And yet so many of us go flapping around looking for pleasure in drink and wildness (not that I don't like a drink, I should add).
Hope you get better quickly and without too many more injections.

Helen Pinkerton said...

May I add: Or to say to yourself in a time of trouble a great poem by a poet-- such as John Donne's Holy Sonnet I, beginning:

Thou has made me and shall thy work decay?
Repair me now, for now mine end doth haste.
I run toward death and death meets me as fast,
And all my pleasures are like yesterday. . . .

Get well soon.