I’m a big fan of vulnerability and what Alan Watts called “The Wisdom of Insecurity.” So much of our flaws as a species comes from an unreasonable attempt to control every aspect of our lives and the world around us. Just about all of it illusory. To just take two examples. Reagan thought the billions spent on the Stars War Shield would keep us safe from nuclear threat, money that could have been spent educating children so they could read “The Wisdom of Insecurity.” Our school science teacher pricked his finger with a paper clip and ended up in the emergency room with a possible life-threatening infection in his finger. It turned out well—going to the doctor was a good “reasonable attempt.” But while we worry about terrorism and earthquakes, the truth is we can be taken down by a damn paper clip! Let's face it. While taking reasonable steps to protect ourselves and control what we can of the arc of our life, we are here by the grace of luck and good fortune.
So on Monday I started feeling the onset of a cold. Why? Where did that come? Did I really deserve it after a year of good health and in the face of an intense final week at school? Well, we don’t get to ask those questions. So I simply suffered through it assuming it would run its usual course and hoped it would be better in time for my trip to Morocco five days later.
It didn't. I’m at the airport and actually looked into the airport Medical Clinic to consider getting an opinion. For the first time, there’s congestion in my chest that had me struggling for breath a few times when I started to cough. Not a good sign with all the travel ahead. But the waiting time and $100 + fee at the clinic deterred me and instead I’m about to board in good (though perhaps not justified) faith that things will improve.
But the maddening thing, and the reason I can empathize with our obsession with control and protection, is that sense that I’m completely at the mercy of some bug and nothing I can do—the cough drops, Cold-Eze tablets, water, tea, etc.—will even make a dent. It’s not a good feeling.
I’ve always been a bad sick person, adding the extra layer of being mad I’m sick to the actual sickness itself. I marvel at the delicate constitutions of people like the composer Chopin and the poet Rilke who created breathtaking art while often being sickly. I’m a bad patient and I’m impatient.
I also get the attraction of prayer, the oldest and most universal form of control and more philosophically sound acknowledging as it does the need to ask for help beyond what we can do. So even as I know they have more important work to do, I send my petition out to the gods and hope that there is, in Gershwin’s words, “Someone to Watch Over Me.”
To be continued…