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Lions Roar : July 2012
LAST SUMMER I WAS SICK in bed. I could write “flu” and be done with it, but that would be a generalization. My eyes were blood red and caked shut in the morning—the doctor said it was conjunctivitis. “Isn’t that what little kids get?” I asked. A lump was developing in the bottom of my mouth. I coughed up green phlegm. My ears were ringing and I heard things as though I were under water. Why do I feel the need to state all this? While sick, I read The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki. The book was long, slow, magnificent, and included everything—many details about the main characters’ colds, allergies, bug bites, and intestinal prob- lems. But as I read I didn’t cringe or back away. We are in human bodies and sickness is natural, a part of this physical life. I took extra delight in the book’s last line. The third sister was finally going to be married—one of the strong narrative drives throughout the book—and the result: “Yukiko’s diarrhea persisted through the twenty-sixth, and was a problem on the train to Tokyo.” And so the book ends. We are left with the gin- ger hesitation of a woman in her thirties—late for marriage in mid-twentieth-century Japan—riding to her destiny, her body engaged and nervously pumping. Now don’t be a prude. You have to love it. The honesty alone. No one else tells us these things. Thank the writer for being honest. While I was sick, lying in bed reading, I’d occasionally look up through my bedroom window and watch the pale green on the distant willows and near lilacs. And sometimes I’d pause to sneeze, cough, blow my nose, take a sip of tea. Friends would call to commiserate. Yes, I was awfully sick—it did seem a long time to be in bed—then I’d return to the dream of the book in hand. The truth is I was happy. Happier than I’d been in a long, long time. Yet I knew that as soon as my energy returned I’d plunge back into mad activity, full of passion. I was lucky because I loved most of what I did in life, but as I lay in bed I realized passion was different than happiness. You don’t do happiness. You receive it. It’s like a water table under the earth. It’s available to everyone but we can only tap it, have it run up through us, when we’re still. A well that darts around can never draw water. We misinterpret success, desire, enterprise, and the things we love as the state of happiness. Usually, we don’t even con- sider happiness because we’re too busy dashing after life, Waking Up to Happiness Sneezing, coughing, blowing her nose—NATALIE GOLDBERG was awfully sick yet she was happy. Happiness is available to everyone, she realized, but we can find it only when we’re still. ILLUSTRATIONBYKATHERINESTREETER SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2012 25