GUC: Sickness forcibly reminds us of transient existence
Opinions Column: Macro to Micro
I take a sip of my third cup of tea for the day. Black. No sugar. Excessively hot. The tip of my tongue burns. My hands search for the box of tissues I have been carrying around with me all day for the past three mornings and evenings. Earlier this week I was visited by an old friend. One who tends to swing by at least once or twice each semester. We know each other quite well but each time my door is knocked, our friendship develops and at the end of each visit I am left in a state of reflection and gratitude. Though always unexpected and unsolicited, and hardly ever purposefully invited, my dear friend, sickness, is loyal and consistent.
Many people express their condolences throughout the week. Their eyebrows will droop and they will utter in a grievous tone, “Oh, I’m sorry. I hope you feel better.” Or those who are more comfortable in visual expression will jump back two steps and holler, “Don’t get me sick too!” In both situations I will perhaps laugh, make a (truthful) joke about how I feel abysmal, and grab another tissue to blow my ever runny and reddened nose. But questions arise in my mind: Why has sickness become a state of being with so many negative connotations? One that individuals hope to not be a supposed victim of and actively try to avoid? Is it a condition to so reverently wish to not have befallen on one’s physiological state? Such are the tidbits of the thoughts that swarm around in my head often creating more buzz than the headache also vying for my attention. A welcomed mental stimulus amongst physical exhaustion.
It can be said that with sickness comes along discomfort, pain and a sense of weariness. All of which cannot be denied. Yet, once again, are the connotations aligned with these associations taken for granted? Why must discomfort or pain be frowned upon? Negative attributes shine light upon the existent good in their absence. Discomfort produces a yearning for comfort. Pain brings about a desire for peace and well-being. Sickness acts as reminder of the perfection of health. My illness creates within me a sense of appreciation for the “normal” state of existence I experience on a day to day basis, yet hardly acknowledge nor feel the need to acknowledge.
I do not partake in conscious observation of the orderly operations going on through my throat until I have dealt with feelings of soreness and itchiness. I definitely do not realize how my nose inhales air with such ease only until I experience days of dire congestion. The systematic functionality of my body is not reflected upon till one or two parts of it deviate from their expected performances. My sustenance is being supplied every moment whether I register it or not. Sickness delivers a metaphorical slap in the face and prompts me to realize that I am a feeble, impotent creature. I am awoken from my ignorance for a few days while sick but very much so prone to falling into a pit of forgetfulness a few days after recovering. Even with all of these merits, sickness and its symptoms are not simply a means of reflecting upon opposites. Its value need not be defined through negation. It has inherent worth. Sickness takes me by the hand, stops me in my tracks, and sits me down for a good talk. It forces me to contemplate upon truths that I often ignore like death, the inevitable outcome of all that lives. While I could be preoccupied with the latest political debate or world affair, I am suddenly confronted with a reality much closer to home, and I daresay, more relevant: the given, transient nature of my existence.
The material facts of sickness have all been studied by experts and dissipated in classrooms. Yet, more intriguing are the kind of inquiries sickness points towards when viewed as not merely an outcome in and of itself but instead as a sort of arrow or signpost, gently tilting one’s gaze elsewhere. My intimate hours with the common cold this week have made me ponder as to whether we are all infected. Infected with a different type of disease — one that numbs our awareness and causes a feverish perception of power, control, and self-reliance. If so, in this increasingly cold month of October, when sickness is not just visiting me, but also knocking on the doors of many others, I would boldly claim that maybe it is not a state to be fretted and disgruntled over nor a condition to evade, but a guest to gladly invite and host with a smile. Maybe, sickness is the very process leading to the cure.
Aysenur Guc is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in philosophy. Her column, "Macro to Micro," runs monthly on Fridays.
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