Could be the thin air, could be the room-temperature beverages (barium tastes like pina colada that’s been swallowed once already and, um, given back), could be the bizarre compounds they pump you full of hereabouts (there’s platinum, fercrissake, in one of the toxins I routinely get), whatever it is, one’s senses are profoundly changed by the climate of Cancerland.
Take, for instance, the eyesight.
My visual acuity is much better than it used to be at home. In fact, the improvement is almost frightening, in that (among other things) I now see myself with off-putting clarity. I see, for instance — with off-putting clarity — that I have been a terrible, terrible pisser-away of time.
I have been profligate, a wastrel, the temporal equivalent of a shameless litterbug, recklessly throwing away — out the car window, over my shoulder — days, week, months. Hell, I think I have perhaps thrown away entire years.
All this on the wretched assumption that time-bits are like city buses: There will be another along directly. Well, the climate off Cancerland has cured me of that delusion.
I don’t mean I have become the opposite of a temporal spendthrift. How would one hoard time anyway? No, what I mean is that I have become an extreme appreciator of time. I savor it now, the way a gourmet savors a slice of truffle.
Again, don’t misunderstand. It’s not that I have booked exotic trips, or sky-diving lessons. Frankly, even now, I don’t believe in “bucket lists.” Okay by me if you do believe in them, of course. I happen not to, that’s all. Anyway, that’s not what I mean by savoring time. So what do I mean?
I saw a film a while back, Into Great Silence, a very long documentary about a community of monks at a preposterously beautiful but stark abbey in Switzerland. It is a film so slow — these are extremely ascetic monks, who are allowed to speak only one Sunday a month — that watching it frequently comes close to sitting in front of an oil painting. But it is also amazing, once you have slowed your metabolism enough properly to attend to it. For my current purposes, to try to explain what the climate of Cancerland has done to my perception, particularly of time, I want to tell you about just one scene.
A certain monk is cleaning and cutting vegetables for that evening’s communal dinner. He is working at an ancient stone counter below a large window that lets in enormous quantities of butter-colored Swiss winter light. The scene goes on for a very long time. There is no sound at all but the sound of scraping and chopping, and the scraping and chopping are not celebrity-chef fast but slow and deliberate. Eventually, what becomes stunningly clear is that the monk working on the roots and tubers in that breathtaking winter light is doing that and nothing else whatsoever. He is not thinking, even about God. He is not going over a list of things that need to be done next. He is not recollecting his childhood, or last summer, nor thinking ahead to tomorrow or next year. He is, for that period of time, doing only what he is doing, with his entire self and with complete and total concentration. Cutting vegetables, he thinks about cutting vegetables, sees himself cutting vegetables, remembers himself cutting vegetables, anticipates cutting vegetables.
That is what I mean by savoring time — doing what you’re doing and only what you’re doing.
Otherwise, you are wasting time, as I’m sorry to say I often did. And it happens that here in the Republic of Cancer, wasting time seems fantastically foolish.
I may not have a lot of good things to say about how the Cancerland climate has changed me, but for this one change, so help me God, I am grateful