“If a man die”, William Carlos Williams once wrote, “it is because death / has first possessed his imagination.” Death possessed the imagination of my patients that month, and my task was to repossess imagination from death. It is a task almost impossibly difficult to describe, an operation far more delicate and complex than the administration of a medicine or the performance of surgery. It was easy to repossess imagination with false promises; much harder to do so with nuanced truths… Too much “repossession” and imagination might bloat into delusion. Too little and it might asphyxiate hope altogether.
-from The Emperor of all Maladies by Siddhartha Muckherjee
I returned to this book I love, after a year of absence. It had come too close suddenly, cancer the monster, snatching at people I loved, ending their stories abruptly like pages and pages ripped from a book.
There is much comfort in the pages of this book, such hope in the many heroes, strength and kindness in Muckherjee, storyteller, modest hero.
But then the book transformed from thriller-biography to horror story… perhaps because of how I was reading it: before sleep, after watching the last 3 episodes of Breaking Bad. Suddenly it seemed the monster was at the door, in the house, looking into the childrens’ rooms, his heavy breath loud in my ears. It seems there is no escape – it will hurt us all somehow.
Cancer is my astrological sign, my son’s too. We get crabby and retreat into our shells. He shuts the door to his room and plays loud music; I retreat to a friend’s house while she’s at work, and escape into books at home.
Oh for a small space of my own, to burrow into.
I know there is no such thing as ‘safe’ while we are alive. Only quiet, love, work – welcome harbours.