Thursday, January 24, 2013

among my own cohort

David Myers, critic and literary historian at the Melton Center for Jewish Studies at the Ohio State University, has written intelligently and movingly about his ongoing treatments--one hates to say battle, as Myers seems more battlefield than army, poor man--for cancer. He was diagnosed not long after Christopher Hitchens learned that he was in the final stages of this same disease. Myers' latest post, telling how he is running through therapy options at the rate of about one every three months and there is a finite number of drugs available, has given me a great feeling of disquiet. I do not know Myers, except barely via the internet, and even that hasn't been for very long. The possible demise of a more-or-less stranger should not discomfit me the way it does. And yet it does.

I find myself, uncharacteristically, filled with the urge to rail against Heaven. To rage against the dying of the light, etc. Myers, to those who read his articles in Commentary or have discovered his Commonplace Blog, is an important voice in the world of contemporary literary criticism. He is opinionated, erudite and unapologetic, arguing passionately in support of the eternal qualities of the best fiction and against the fads and empty fashions of the day. He's doing the critic's job and he's doing it darned well. The idea that he might not be around, urging writers to fulfill their promise and do their best possible work for readers, simply pisses me off. Or something. I really amn't getting at the heart of my disquiet, and possibly I don't know what that heart really is.

Like I say, I hardly know the guy. Myers' wife and children, his colleagues, relatives and neighbors are all living much more in the umbra of his cancer than I am. Maybe it's just that I'm getting older, that Mighty Reader is getting older, that death among my own cohort is becoming less uncommon and I can see the circle of people I love or admire shrinking, shrinking. I am angry and frightened at the inevitability of Mighty Reader's death. O heaven, O earth, I will be lost. One of my colleagues is having "where do you want your ashes scattered?" conversations with his wife, who is unwell.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay

I don't know. An aging man afraid of the fate we all share. I can hope for a miracle for David Myers.


  1. I experience this same thing on and off. Lately I've been thinking about it more, and I get depressed. And it has nothing to do with age. I think of how random life can be. But, somehow, I find comfort in the fact that our fears won't change anything. Nature will take its course and then we won't be anymore. When we are dead we won't worry about this. And probably before we are dead we won't worry about this.

  2. Sometimes, like when I can't sleep on my left side because my hip aches too much, I think death might be very nice. It's pain-free, at least. Worry-free as well. My own death irritates me, but not as much as the deaths of others irritates. I don't know why I wrote this post. I should've just mailed Dr Myers a get well card or something.

  3. I have felt this way too, from time to time, over the years.

    I had an unexpected death in my family two years ago and I find myself thinking about it, the randomness of it, when I have time to contemplate things.

    Mostly I say to myself "It's a part of life. So be it." And saying that helps me for some reason. I didn't feel good, mind you, but I felt better.

    This probably seems pitifully inadequate but it helps me, a little, in unquiet moods.