Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"What Is to Give Light Must Endure Burning"*

The Sun Magazine is one of my favorite magazines, worth every penny of the subscription fee, and I’m pleased to pass along news that the web site offers a wonderful new feature, “Favorites from the Archives,” in which editors and contributors have selected pieces from the past that they found to be especially memorable. Something new will be posted each month, so this is a good site to bookmark.

I liked the essay “On Being Unable to Breathe,” by Stephen T. Butterfield who explores ways of coming to an understanding of chronic disease that do not revolve around the “think happy thoughts” school of pop psychology. This essay was first published in 1988…sadly, the bio note refers to Mr. Butterfield in the past tense. How fortunate we are that this remarkable essay has come to light again.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

“We have little choice about anything, moving around as we do in a sleepy, anxious cloud of habit and conditioned response. When we slow down, that cloud settles, finally, and the details hidden within it begin to emerge with startling precision. I hold the kettle to the faucet; hear the water swirl in the bottom; place it on the stove, the little drops sizzling away from the hot grill; stare out the window at the vortex of snow down in the valley, swirling over the trees. Finally, the steam whistles through the spout and I pour a cup of tea. My thoughts flutter and swirl like water, like the snow. Having to slow down begins to seem less like a disability and more and more like a precious gift.

“But I cannot delude myself that this is some kind of accomplishment, for I would dearly love to leap, like my cat, from the stairs to the floor; I would love to dance, run like a horse across the yard, play football, go out for a pass. The fact that slowing down is choiceless becomes part of the gift: taking credit for things just keeps stirring up that cloud. Since I cannot take credit, what really matters is the scent of the tea. The only choice we have anyway is to wake up.”

*This quotation, by Viktor Frankl, seems to serve as the magazine’s mission statement.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.