Henry David Thoreau famously said that the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. I never really understood that line when I first read it many years ago, and as I was growing into maturity, it always seemed to me a bleak assessment of the human condition. ”Quiet desperation” seemed to negate the very possibility of living a meaningful if not joyous life. In my youth, hearing those words made me feel distant at best from what Thoreau was trying to say.
When Marcy Strickler was 10 years old, she suddenly faced frequent bouts of diarrhea and completely lost her appetite and energy — far from the ideal situation for an active fifth grader. For a while, she tried to ignore the symptoms and hid everything from her parents. But as hard as she tried, she couldn’t hide the illness forever.
“I just woke up one morning and I physically couldn’t go to school,” she said.
I’ve been meaning to have my DNA tested in hope of locating
the genetic mutation that impairs my vision. The mutation makes me legally blind, leaving me unable to drive and using one
of those white canes in crowds and at night.
Ruth Magied sits down at the piano in her Midwood apartment and dives into Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” Her fingers lightly, fluently, dance over the keys.
The music stops after a few minutes and Magied stands up. She turns from the piano, the instrument that filled her childhood, to the topic that occupied her adolescence — pain.
“Pain,” she says, “can destroy your brain. It’s like having four root canals that never go away. It’s like having someone hitting you over your head with a frying pan.”
Our little bungalow in the Catskills isn’t much. A scarce one-bedroom dwelling with a shared porch, a single air-conditioner that only serves its purpose when the temperature is below 90, a circa-70s kitchen that doubles as the second bedroom and a bathroom that is probably better left undescribed. It seems to be a highly recommended tourist destination for flies and ants.