From the human throat terrible banes can also emerge: bawling, droning, whining, yelling, inciting (“the windiest militant trash,” as Auden phrased it in the same poem), and even snickering. It’s the chance to pitch still, small voices against this torrent of babble and noise, the voices of wit and understatement, for which one yearns.
To my writing classes I used later to open by saying that anybody who could talk could also write. Having cheered them up with this easy-to-grasp ladder, I then replaced it with a huge and loathsome snake: “How many people in this class, would you say, can talk? I mean really talk?” This had its duly woeful effect.
When you fall ill, people send you CDs. Very often, in my experience, these are by Leonard Cohen.
It ought to be an offense to be excruciating and unfunny in circumstances where your audience is almost morally obliged to enthuse.
The most comprehensive investigation of the subject ever conducted—the “Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer,” of 2006, could find no correlation at all between the number and regularity of prayers offered and the likelihood that the person being prayed for would have improved chances. But it did find a small but interesting negative correlation, in that some patients suffered slight additional woe when they failed to manifest and improvement. That felt that they had disappointed their devoted supporters.
I sympathize afresh with the mighty Voltaire, who, when badgered on his deathbed and urged to renounce the devil, murmured that this was no time to be making enemies.
Third, why not a thunderbolt for yours truly, or something similarly awe-inspiring? The vengeful deity has a sadly depleted arsenal if all he can think of is exactly the cancer that my age and former “lifestyle” would suggest that I got.
(in response to a Christian declaring that Hitchens’s illness was God punishing him for blasphemy)
People don’t have cancer: They are reported to be battling cancer. No well-wisher omits the combative image: You can beat this. It’s even in the obituaries for cancer losers, as if one might reasonably say of someone that they died after a long and brave struggle with mortality.
To the dumb question “Why me?” the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?
In one way, I suppose, I have been “in denial” for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends and finding that it often gives a lovely light.