The Dumb Comfort of Your Presence

Hospital stays are one of the few times in adulthood when we have an excuse to drop all the busywork that normally preoccupies us and go to be with the people we love.  You simply spend time with them, without any social occasion for it–a wedding or anniversary, dinner or the theater.  You just sit there in the same room, making small talk or reading, offering the dumb comfort of your presence.  You are literally There for them.  When you’re a kid, this is one of dullest, most dehumanizing things you’re forced to do–being dressed up in a navy blazer or a sweater vest and dragged to family reunions to be fawned over like a photo in an album, your physical presence all that’s required of you.  But if you manage to make it to some semblance of adulthood, just showing up turns out to be one of the kindest, most selfless things you can do for someone.  And it isn’t only selfless.  At the beginning of my stay, my friend Lauren told me over the phone, “I know this seems like a drag, but someday, I promise you, you will look back and be grateful that you had this time…”

Tim Kreider, We Learn Nothing, pgs. 179-180

Averted Vision

Such a contemplative thing to say:

Perhaps the reason we so often experience happiness only in hindsight, and that any deliberate campaign to achieve it is so misguided, is that it isn’t an obtainable goal in itself but only an after-effect.  It’s the consequence of having lived in the way that we’re supposed to—by which I don’t mean ethically correctly but fully, consciously engaged in the business of living.  In this respect it resembles averted vision, a phenomenon familiar to backyard astronomers whereby, in order to pick out a very faint star, you have to let your gaze drift casually to the space just next to it; if you look directly at it, it vanishes.  And it’s also true, come to think of it, that the only stars we ever see are not the real stars, those blinding cataclysms in the present, but always only the light of the untouchable past.

From Tim Kreider’s We Learn Nothing, pg. 218