I am reading Laura Hillenbrand's book, Unbroken. It is her second book, the first being Sea Biscuit, which was about a racehorse. Unbroken is about Louis Zamperini, who became famous for being a runner and winning races, and then for surviving terrible years as a POW in Japan. Laura Hillenbrand, who is now 43, has had M.E. since she was 19. She lives in her room and goes out so rarely that when she does, she is confused by changes in the world: things are automated that never used to be - that sort of thing. She says that she writes about people who push themselves to the limit against overwhelming odds because it gives her a vicarious life. People have urged her to write an autobiography (she wrote a splendid piece, published in the New Yorker, about the very beginning of having M.E.). But writing about her own life is the last thing she wants to do. Writing stories is a way of not having to live so completely inside her own diseased body. It has been her escape. I find it hard to imagine how she does it. She says that everything is set up for her. She has a refrigerator in her room. Her husband is a successful university professor and was presumably able to provide for her, before she became financially successful. Even so, there are cognitive challenges she must have had to negotiate.
What she said made me think - that we all, to some extent, live our lives vicariously. We do this when entering into the life of another or just observing a creature or something from the natural world. When we pay attention to the 'otherness' of the other, then we become that: borrow the airborneness of a bird in flight, the astonishment of a baby who sees everything as new; and I remember the look in my daughter's eyes in the morning when she was two months old - I felt proud, almost, to have brought her into the world so that she could discover the remarkable fact (not the word but I can't find the right one) of a pattern made on the wall by sun coming through pink curtains. The first time my cat went outside, looked up and saw birds flying in the sky, something moved in her soul, quickened her senses. Of course, in time, she would want to catch and kill them, but still, it was a moment of wonder, when sudddenly this bit of life was revealed to her, and I felt proud of the world and what lived in it, as though I myself had had something to do with its creation - and at the same time I felt I was her, on the receiving end of all these new manifestations. Animals have this virtue, that they keep their innocence. Even when they kill and maim, they do not lose it, as people do.
Everything after birth is a falling away from innocence. To keep the soul intact, to retain a sense of wonder - this is great blessing. Sometimes it is lost or damaged, but we can get it back, as Louis Zamperini, after his terrible experiences, managed to do, this being (in my opinion) his greatest achievement.
It is June, but the wind is autumn-like, tearing through the branches of the ash tree outside my window. A child's red teepee has been blown onto my lawn. Nothing is quite as it should be. I am filled with a sense of possibilities.