I’ve been going through the personal messages in my UC Berkeley email account to either delete them or move them to another email address and found this note to John Bergez, my favorite editor. (He’s the one I worked with on the Giant-Dodger book.) John spent a few weeks in Italy at a Shakespeare seminar, super-enjoyed it, then came home and suffered from weakness and insomnia. When his symptoms persisted, he went to the hospital. The doctors drained two liters of fluid from his heart and lung. When they examined the fluid, they found cancer cells. John’s answer to those who asked how we could help was, “Keep sending news and letting me know what’s going on; it’s good to feel connected.” This was one of the notes I sent before he passed away.
Yesterday was The Fabulous Wife’s birthday. A cousin called and asked her how it felt to turn 58. (The cousin is older, so I guess she was being respectful by not just telling The Fabulous Wife how it felt.) With only a hint of sputter, The Fabulous Wife said, “I don’t know how 58 is supposed to feel.”
I will turn 58 in a couple of months, and I don’t know how it’s supposed to feel either. Some days my lower back is tight and doesn’t want to loosen. I suppose that’s how it feels to turn 58. Some nights I get up to pee and lose my balance on the way to the bathroom, veering a couple of inches toward the wall. I suppose that’s how it feels to turn 58. And then there’s my utter incredulity at what college students think and do. I suppose that’s how it feels to turn 30.
As you note, it’s amazing what we take for granted. I try hard not to take for granted my good health, my prosperity, and the companionship of The Fabulous Wife, my cat, my friends, and my family. But just as I don’t know how it’s supposed to feel to be my age, I’m not sure I truly know how it is to feel grateful. Perhaps some complacence has seeped in. I won’t know for sure until I’m in your shoes.
(Not that I look forward to that.)
Mostly I’m confused. Yesterday I read an article by John Searle disputing the premise of a new book by an expert in catastrophic risk. I did my best to understand Searle’s famous Chinese Room analogy, which I suppose hearkens back to Plato’s Cave. But just when I convinced myself I got it, he referred to it in a way I couldn’t grasp. I’ve always had trouble understanding Searle, and I’m not a philosopher. Still, this stuff shouldn’t be beyond me.
What I’m really scared of is that it wouldn’t have been beyond me when I was 40, or maybe even 50.
Maybe that’s how it feels to turn 58 also: to have so much, including the respect of other people, while knowing that the fade has begun and the whole shebang just bewilders the shit out of you.
If so, I’m living it.
And living it still, without the solace of John’s friendship, in a nation and world grotesquely transformed.
But there’s hope. John was older than me, and his response to my note was, “And then somewhere along the line, it becomes ‘the whole shebang bewilders the shit out of you, and somehow that is . . . OK.’”