The intense debates over health-care reform have brought to mind some poignant memories. When my father was in his early 40s he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Our entire family was shaken, but perhaps no one more than Granddad and Grandma Clapp. Moving into their elderly years, they had to watch a son die.
Halfway through Michael Mann’s Public Enemies, about the time I should have been engrossed in the tommy-guns-a-blazin’ battle between bad guy John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and good guy Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale), I found myself staring at the beautiful overcoat Dillinger was wearing, the hip sunglasses he had on and the way Purvis’s stylish hat was nattily cocked upon his head.
Mine is reasonably small having always lived low, turned off lights and faucets, eschewed useless stuff, reused, recycled. I do not aspire to shrink it, but, like the first people in these green hills,
I want to leave no footprint at all, to move through life in gentle, charitable silence not disturbing fragile things, cosmic balances or the universal pulse so that, when my candle sputters into darkness, the tiniest leaf is unmoved by the wisp of its rising smoke.
Silence is misery, said a friend in a casual comment on the phone. Elizabeth spent three days with no one to interrupt her but her own fears. Lulls during which she noticed the buzz and pop, resting from the hike on a stone. Her retreat intended to evade noise, but she found the clawing of forest murder and distant yelps. That’s when she saw a tree, already turned the color of flame against the others’ ordinary green, like the great voice of one who had to speak. Not a word for three days, unable to resist the conversation released within. Slow sun upon a single tree that stands without explanation on the edge of the meadow with red leaves, a hawk glides above the landscape of pines between silence and speech.
So, I didn’t latch onto a holy word and go into space and, ethereal, lose touch with my body. But God, in those thirty slow minutes, you unfolded in me the bud of a fresh flower, with color and fragrance that was more than my soul was capable of, on its own.
. . . We all, with unveiled face, behold as in a mirror the glory of the Lord.
And when the peony showed up, I knew it as a kind of mirror. This was glory in pink and cream, with a smell of heaven. Petals like valves opening into the colors of my heart.
I saw myself kneeling on a grass border, my knees bruising the green, pressing my face into the face of this silken, just-opened bloom, and breathing it, wanting to drown in it. Wanting to grow in its reflected image.
Sanduk Ruit, a Nepali ophthalmologist, has restored eyesight to more than 100,000 people, perhaps a record for one person. He has pioneered a very simple cataract removal procedure that costs only $25 and takes only five minutes per eye. Dr. Ruit’s procedure has the same success rate (98 percent) as the more complicated one used in the United States. The “Nepal method” is now taught in medical schools in the United States (New York Times, November 7).