Jewish World Review May 31, 2013/ 22 Sivan 5773
On leaving the hospital
By Paul Greenberg
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | It was just a little sunspot that needed removing. That's what my dermatologist told me. She'd been monitoring it for months, maybe years, and now a biopsy had confirmed her diagnosis and recommendation. It had to go. It was just minor, routine surgery, she assured me. Minor, routine surgery to her. And to the competent, expeditious surgeon she'd recommended. But it was my little sunspot, and my minor, routine surgery, which meant it wasn't little or minor or routine at all. No, I'm not a nervous patient. Not much.
But now the spot was gone, and so was I -- out the same revolving door through which I'd entered the hospital that morning. But everything had changed after a couple of hours in a windowless operating room. The sun was brighter, the air cleaner, the colors clearer, the sounds sharper. It was like getting new lenses in my glasses. Somebody had come around and sharpened all the lines around everything while I was in there and filled them in with new, vivid colors. The greenery, the clouds, the people on the street, the cars zooming past, the familiar landmarks ... they were all so sharp now, and life -- of every sort -- so beautiful.
The apprehension wasn't there anymore. Lifted away. The relief was palpable. Time opened before me like a new horizon. The surgeon had told me to take it easy for the rest of the day, maybe two. Stay home, he'd said, no exertion. Just to be on the safe side. Let myself be waited on hand and foot. Naturally I did. It was Doctor's Orders. And I intended to enjoy every moment of my recuperation.
No routine chores for me this beautiful day. And that included going into the office to read the page proofs, a lot of good it does. A typo or two inevitably slips by anyway. It happens in the best of publications. My favorite little magazine, The New Criterion, must be the best written and poorest proofread of any of the many I find in my mailbox.
Sure enough, the old type gremlins, now computerized and paginated and up-to-date in every way, but just as mysterious and mischievous as they ever were, still manage to insert a typo or two into our editorials. Or conspire to delete an essential word. I shouldn't mind; it seems to gratify our readers so, or at least the kind who are quick to dash off an email bringing it to my attention -- after the paper's already out.
An old editor I knew used to have a standard reply in those circumstances: "Congratulations, Alert Reader! You've just spotted one of the two typographical errors we make a point of slipping into our editorials daily for the delectation of those of our readers who love to search for them...."
I've never worked up the nerve -- the rudeness, really -- to adopt his response as my own, though any editor can understand the temptation.
Today there'd be no editing, no writing, no reading page proofs for me. Just rest-and-recuperation. And I was going to luxuriate in it.
It wasn't just the bright beauty of the day, the feeling of being off the clock, that was so exhilarating. It took me a moment to realize the deeper reason for this calm sense of well-being. It was the promise of solitude, of being alone, just me and my self -- except of course when I wanted a cup of tea, a bite to eat, or my pillow fluffed. ... No, I'm not spoiled. Not much.
In his classic essay on solitude, Montaigne praises it as a time when a man can put worldly concerns behind him and ruminate on his experiences and its lessons, all of which Montaigne does so well in his essay. But it is not any connection with the past, or with the future for that matter, that makes solitude so appealing to us loners. But its immediate, overwhelming effect on the present, which has suddenly been expanded into a palace of time. I can sense the spaciousness of it on leaving the hospital, wearing my bandage like a military decoration.
The day opens up before me like a great garden never walked in before, holding out unfilled time like a bouquet. Time is suspended in place. The clock has stopped ticking. I take off my wristwatch. Who needs it now?
Ah, bought time. Time to do nothing but just to sit back and look at things, maybe even really see them for once. Everything shines with a new intensity, or maybe an old intensity, the intensity of childhood when time is slowed and every sensation is deeply felt, imprinted, savored. Even boredom.
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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
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