Friday, June 14, 2013

A Place Called Sickness

Most readers of this blog know that Flannery O'Connor suffered from the chronic autoimmune disease, lupus erythematosus, that eventually took her life in 1964 at the young age of 39.  O'Connor rarely talked about her illness.  One of these infrequent occasions was in a  letter she wrote to her friend Betty Hester in 1956.  Speaking of her suffering Flannery writes: "I have never been anywhere but sick.  In a sense, sickness is a place, more instructive than a long trip to Europe, and it's always a place where there's no company, where nobody can follow.  Sickness before death is a very appropriate thing and I think those who don't have it miss one of God's mercies." (The Habit of Being, p. 163).  Unless one has lived with a chronic, life-threatening disease, the reader is unlikely to empathize with the feelings Flannery discloses in this letter.  He or she has probably never experienced that kind of loneliness nor could possibly imagine how an illness can be one of God's mercies.  One man who does understand is the former editor of Poetry Magazine, Christian Wiman, who for the last few years has suffered with a nasty, aggressive form of cancer.  He writes bravely of his struggles in his new book, My Bright Abyss.  In a review of it in the New York Times Kathleen Norris characterizes the book as "urgent and daring."  Indeed! What's especially daring is Wiman's level of honesty.  Writing in a style reminiscent of Pascal, Wiman struggles to find faith as he stares into an abyss of impending loss and annihilation.  I agree with everything Kathleen Norris says in her review of this important book and strongly implore you to read My Bright Abyss.
- Mark

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