Monday, September 29, 2014
what, a coincidence?
See you, September. I was away for a week-long art retreat, then I spent a week helping one of my sisters get through a difficult surgery, then I had a head cold for a week. Which brings us to now. I still am suffering from the head cold. However, things are looking up, and I am at the point in its denouement at which I am taking an interest in life again. Reading, even. I spent much of the month escaping into Mary Stewart and Georgette Heyer novels - re-read for the umpteenth time, each of them, purely for comfort - and last night was the first time in weeks I picked up something brand new to me. I read it in one sitting - a little softcover I found at Goodwill a few weeks ago for two bucks. The Red Notebook: True Stories by Paul Auster (New Directions 2002), a collection of short yet completely compelling anecdotes all hinging on the actual occurrence of the highly improbable. Each tale is tied up with his quick, smart, to-the-point prose like tidy ribbon around a gift. They are gathered from several decades of his life, and either happened to him or were told to him. Once you read the first one, there's no stopping. I had to read them all, immediately. They get better and better as the book unfolds. They are too short to really even talk about or quote from, although I will just mention that near the end of the book he says (p.98):
"What a coincidence.... My life has been filled with dozens of curious events like this one, and no matter how hard I try, I can't seem to shake free of them. What is it about the world that continues to involve me in such nonsense?"
Nonsense, yet portentous nonetheless? Well, he draws no conclusions about the coincidences he writes about. He simply presents them as fact, as undeniable history, even saying at one point (p.15), "...facts are facts, and there's nothing I can do about it." We read and think Dot dot dot (...) and move on, wondering.
Everyone has some of these in life, I think. One such happened to me, when I was waiting in a hospital in Boston with my sister, nearly two weeks ago. She was asleep, post-surgery, and I was sitting next to her, feeling sorry for both her and for myself (ugly, I know, but it must be said). I decided to read a bit more of a book I mentioned previously, The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius (Harvard University Press 2008). I opened it to where I'd left off weeks before and immediately read the following (p.10):
"'...have you understood what I have been saying? Has it sunk in, or are you a donkey hearing a lute? Why are you still weeping?... If you want the physician's cure, you must bare your wound.'"
Needless to say, I was electrified. Lady Philosophy continues on a few pages later, saying (p.38)
"'...stop your weeping. Fortune does not hate everyone in your family, and when those anchors still hold fast, the storm, however violent, is not overwhelming. You have present consolation and you have hope for the future.'"
That doesn't sound like much, but to me, at that particular moment, boom, I was thunderstruck. And equally, consoled - which is indeed one of the main precepts of the book, and which is why I must have brought the book along on this trip in the first place. So, not a pure coincidence, more of a pre-planned one, but still. I find there's a lot to be said for carrying around small books of real-life philosophy. And I plan to do so more often.