There are times when every footfall is as though through a field of melted cheese, when the atmosphere is so thick with fog it has entered the brain and begun to solidify, and the bleachers are full of screaming schoolchildren hurling rusty darts at my slowly moving target. These are days when insights and thoughts come as shards through an unfocused kaleidoscope.
These are the times when the best I can come up with are fragments. Like this one.
“Holy forgiveness! mercy! charity! faith! Holy! Ours! bodies! suffering! magnanimity! Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soul!” — Allen Ginsberg, “Footnote to Howl” (1955)
“A doctor’s first duty is to ask for forgiveness.” So Dr. Isak Borg, the protagonist of Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries,is informed by his interrogator in his disastrous dream examination at the end of a career, and a life, left largely unexamined.
A patient’sfirst duty is to beg for mercy. There are no cures, only sentences. No relief, only new pains. There is only mercy. It is all we deserve, and all we can ask for.
But mercy and forgiveness together can work miracles. Mercy and forgiveness, willingly conspiring, are the closest we will come to the divine—the sacrifice of hope and hubris for the shared burden of failure’s tender embrace.
Jared Gardner is a professor and patient at the Ohio State University.