Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, July 30, 2021

The Lotus-eater

“For my own part I reckon being ill as one of the great pleasures of life, provided one is not too ill and is not obliged to work till one is better. I remember being ill once in a foreign hotel myself and how much I enjoyed it. To lie there careless of everything, quiet and warm, and with no weight upon the mind, to hear the clinking of the plates in the far-off kitchen as the scullion rinsed them and put them by; to watch the soft shadows come and go upon the ceiling as the sun came out or went behind a cloud; to listen to the pleasant murmuring of the fountain in the court below, and the shaking of the bells on the horses' collars and the clink of their hoofs upon the ground as the flies plagued them; not only to be a lotus-eater but to know that it was one's duty to be a lotus-eater.”

—Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh, ch 80

Hearing I was sick in bed, a friend sent me this quote, an apt summation of my Thursday. Hapless and heavy, I lay propped up on pillows wishing I could nap, but at every turn sleep eluded me. Instead the sounds of family life downstairs washed over me, and I let people laugh or fuss without feeling any compulsion to respond.

The majority of my day was spent pleasantly, if fruitlessly, trying to track down a half-remembered phrase in Love and Responsibility. I remembered the wording, and I remembered where on the page it should appear, and at every turn I expected to see it before me. I also hoped Wojtyła's dense prose might put me to sleep at last. Instead I read the whole book from the middle to the end, and then from the beginning to the middle, and never found exactly what I was looking for. But I found much I wasn't looking for, and I count it time well spent. 

By dinner time I slugged downstairs, where the thermometer stubbornly refused to register above 98.1 no matter how hot I felt. But I'd stopped shredding tissues with explosive sneezes, and I was finally hungry. The kids were all ordered to put themselves to bed, which meant that one after another they came and flopped on me and fell asleep in in various configurations of arms and legs. And still I lay awake, after Darwin came and moved the pile of boys, after he'd read his book and drifted off, after the clock rolled 2:30 and I'd been awake for more than 24 hours. I drifted in and out of light maternal sleep, listening for the sounds of my oldest daughter coming in from her night shift. When I opened my eyes again, the hall light was off, and I knew she was home and in bed. And then, at last, once the family was at peace, I too could rest.

It is a strange and happy new world, where I can be an expendable presence for a day. My children are all old enough to scavenge food for themselves and each other. And my daughters were motivated to make the house presentable because someone was expecting a Gentleman Caller, another fun new phase of life. The chaos of a full house is muted for me, literally, because of the pressure in my ears, and so I exist at a slight remove from everyone in my lip-reading bubble. There is nothing on my calendar. And perhaps I will be able to nap this afternoon, and then what can man do against me? Nunc dimittis, Domine, at least for a few hours of repose.

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