I had a cold earlier this week, and then last night I broke into a sweat at about 1:00 in the morning, and I woke up today and my head was clear again. I always find it illuminating when a fever breaks. For several days I shuffle around trying to remember what health feels like. I can’t. I only know that once upon a time I didn’t have to blow my nose every ten minutes and I generally had energy for whatever needed doing. Yet these ideas feel as distant as the stories my parents told me about myself as a child. And then I am well again, and I understand that the sickness was like leaving home for a foreign country that did not suit me. Sickness always reminds me of despair in that way. Despair is like an idea we try on for a time. We are trying to force ourselves to accept a view of the world that is in direct conflict with ourselves, and usually this view of the world involves there being something very wrong with us that needs correcting. Yes, the view feels awful, but we have been told that the truth hurts, and so we will stick with it a bit longer until, like a disobedient slave, we come to accept the terms of our arrangement.
Andre Dubus III said that when he wrote his first story he “finally felt like Andre.” What more could anyone hope for? Our own health, mental and physical, is always there for us like our very selves, as long as we are willing to surrender to it. Andre’s father and namesake was a writer also, and so perhaps Andre III resisted that path for a time himself.
But you don’t get to be anyone but yourself and feel good about it. Obviously, this is good news, though it doesn’t always seem so. The temptation to play the role of someone better can be great, but this is merely avoiding the inevitable work of growing the unique flower that is you, a flower you’ve never seen before and so must accept that that which is different from all that you have ever seen before is not wrong. The gift of ill health and despair is a reminder not that there is something wrong with you—but actually just the opposite. Despair is the reminder that there is something absolutely right with you if you are only willing to live it.