“Wait without hope,” Eliot counsels in Four Quartets. “For hope would be hope for the wrong thing.” This is all well and good for a Man of Faith, as Eliot knows himself to be, where “the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.” Indeed, as the man says, that is the very definition of “faith”: waiting. But I am no man of faith and so am not one equipped for waiting for rewards and release in the realm beyond. There is no end in waiting unless I submit and turn waiting into the end itself, an end that can only result in faith.
Might I eventually take recourse in faith? I won’t say never, because I am in realms of uncertainty and worlds pain I have never visited before. There may come a time when the promise of certainty or of numbness is too tempting not put to the test. After all, that is surely where lies the origins of faith: in uncertainty and pain. When life was brutish and short and its every element a terrifying mystery, how comforting the premises of faith must have been: surrender, sublime sublimation, the waiting for something better beyond.
My life is already absurdly long by almost any measure. At a half-century, I’ve already eclipsed the life expectancy of my deeply faithful medieval ancestors. Hell, a lifetime of respiratory infections would have deep-sixed me had I been born earlier than the development of antibiotics in 1907, or, more realistically, before the development of corticosteroids in the 1940s. As I’ve already confessed, I am in multiple senses a creature of modern medicine—its creation, its devotee, its addict, and—as I’ve been reminded too often of late—its slave. As myself the product not of faith but of microscope—far more prudent, the sage of Amherst reminds us, in an emergency—I will live and die by what it tells me it sees.
At the moment, when the turns its lens in my direction, it tells me it sees nothing. And so it is, having putting my faith in the microscope I find all faith in me leaching steadily away. Seeing myself through the lens of my doctors, I become increasingly immaterial in my body, twisted and electric though it seems to my lensless gaze. I can for the first time see myself as nothing but currents of immaterial pain, all flesh stripped away in its profound lack of “objective” evidence.
Science transforms me into the fleshless spirit that, science tells me, does not exist. Faith is a fine invention, indeed.
Jared Gardner is a professor and patient at the Ohio State University.