The satisfactions are notoriously fleeting
A few years ago, Tony Judt received a diagnosis of Lou Gehrig's disease. At this point, he's paralyzed from the neck down. His essay on the experience -- dictated, of course -- particularly the torments of the night, is deeply affecting, not least because Judt stubbornly refuses to pretend that silver linings compensate for unending storms:
I suppose I should be at least mildly satisfied to know that I have found within myself the sort of survival mechanism that most normal people only read about in accounts of natural disasters or isolation cells. And it is true that this disease has its enabling dimension: thanks to my inability to take notes or prepare them, my memory—already quite good—has improved considerably, with the help of techniques adapted from the "memory palace" so intriguingly depicted by Jonathan Spence. But the satisfactions of compensation are notoriously fleeting. There is no saving grace in being confined to an iron suit, cold and unforgiving. The pleasures of mental agility are much overstated, inevitably—as it now appears to me—by those not exclusively dependent upon them. Much the same can be said of well-meaning encouragements to find nonphysical compensations for physical inadequacy. That way lies futility. Loss is loss, and nothing is gained by calling it by a nicer name. My nights are intriguing; but I could do without them.
I'd also recommend Judt's recent lecture -- delivered from his wheelchair -- on what is living and what is dead in social democracy.
December 30, 2009; 1:00 PM ET
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