Stuck now in my home with a heel fracture, I feel like I'm entering new territory. I'm awaiting operation now, pain is only moderate and I'm gradually learning how to go about doing daily tasks. My damaged foot has helped me get to know my body a bit better. As I wrote in a Facebook entry some time ago: "Dear body, I'm glad to see you again. It was a long time ago".
But this is not just about the body. Body and mind cannot be separated. If this feels like new territory, it's also because I'm rediscovering parts of my mind. I've long been used to thinking of my mind as possessing a certain geography, a landscape of emotions and cognitions that include some places that I almost never visit. To reach them I need to break with the routines of my daily life. Being home with a damaged foot is one way of achieving this.
During the first days after my accident, I sometimes ventured out on crutches into the living room, after my family had gone to sleep. I would feel like a ghost haunting the old places where it had once lived. During those days, I still felt a lot of pain, especially during the night. Lowering the foot to the floor would feel like sinking it into a bucket of pain. Still, strangely, I loved this pain, which so obviously was a sign that my body was still alive. I would also feel dreadfully stupid for the accident, which was all my own fault. In the midst of all this, I would feel and think, think and feel - a process which is typical of being alive in an emphatic sense, and which is contrary to the diluted life of everyday routine (a life when I think little and feel little).
It might be a trite commonplace by now, but one of the most stupid illusions produced by the routines of ordinary life is the illusion of self-sufficiency. Even though I know this, convalescence has helped me realize again how helpless I would be without others. Receiving the help of others is good, because it erodes pride.
One thought that struck me was that convalescence helps me prepare for the way I will probably die. I know little of dying, but what I know tells me that it is a process so full of pain and hardship that it seems absurdly unfair that most of us will have to undergo it when we are old and weak. Dying is a falling apart of the landscape of the mind, and the roads and cities of routine will be first to disappear. To be terminally ill is to live in a shrinking world. Gradually, the things that I have amassed during my life will lose importance. I will lose interest in books I once wanted to read. I will cease to care about things that once made me happy. I will still love people and I will wish them well. But the armies of pain and fatigue will advance every passing day. Every day will mean a further defeat, a discovery of a new incapacity, a further league added to the distance between me and the living.
I've seen people who have walked this road turn into almost angelic figures. Even as they grew weaker, they surprised me with their strength since they were able to preserve what was really important - kindness and, strangely, a clarity of vision surpassing that of us who, so full of sad confusion, had gathered around them - when everything else fell away.
I have no faith in life after death, but I do believe in a life beyond routine. Some places hidden among the hills are among the most precious and wonderful that I know of. Lush and sunny, they are places where a sweet wind is blowing, gently caressing my senses. Every time I find them, I feel that I have not lived in vain.
Where you are going, you can only enter empty-handed.
Whatever you find on the road, just leave it where it is.