“The hill, though high, I covet to ascend.” Bring on my surgery! Let Doña Quixote be my biggest difficulty again!
Featured image: An engraving of the journey made by the pilgrim in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), titled A Plan of the Road from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. Title includes a quote from Pilgrim’s Progress.
The wait is over, let the surgery begin. My pre-op visit at the University of Utah was scheduled for this morning. When we left home, the temperature was still below freezing. But my gloves were on and my coat cozy. I met my urogynecologist, Dr. Elizabeth Robison, already beloved after only two visits. She answered our questions the finer details of the surgery and recovery. All the while I never lost my conviction that the surgery was what I wanted—Peter, too. We left the hospital building on a high of having accomplished everything we had to during the long weeks of waiting. To get back to our car, we had to cross a cold and windy courtyard to the parking terrace. When I moved from the hospital warmth to the outside cold, my glasses fogged up above my face mask. Fortunately I was holding Peter’s arm, so I did not have to wield my walking stick to figure out where the ground was. Inside the open-sided parking building in which the ramps switchbacked the wind into a deeper level of cold, I looked through my still fogged-up lenses along the long uphill between us and the car: against the fuzzy firmament, my primary visual cortex computed a seemingly endless row of light blobs, each outlined in a rainbow mandorla. While I have not been convinced by “the evidence of things not seen” like the converts of many faiths, I am as capable as any believer of plucking a propitious message from the heavens, even those beamed into a parking lot!
William Turner’s Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory)—the Morning after the Deluge—Moses Writing the Book of Genesis, exhibited 1843. Goethe’s Theory of Colour rejects Isaac Newton’s Seven Color Theory, focusing not on wavelengths but rather on us humans’ reception of color and its effect on our psyche.
In his Morning after the Deluge, Turner uses Goethe’s notion of the color yellow as a hope-inspiring hue to portray the “happy” outcome of the Hebrew version of the universal flood myth, wherein Hashem— after a 40-day and 40-night storm—bids the sun to rise on the first morning of his re-do of creation via the microcosm of Noah’s ark. Turner depicts the moment when the rising sun drives the unbroken darkness of 57,600 minutes to the edges of the canvas and replaces it with a luminous yellow, which reaches its zenith just left of the center, where Moses—stylus in hand—sits above his serpent-crowned staff. But the upbeat yellow light does not keep it’s promise, since Turner sneaks in some real-world reality by portraying, bottom right, some of the hapless victims of the flood, faces distorted with terror, still treading water. Click here to see the dying sinners in a larger version of the painting. Moreover, a poem fragment that Turner wrote as an accompaniment to the painting, is titled—oh no!—“Fallacies of Hope.” It goes on to smash to remaining smithereens of my rainbow-circled vision with the lines, ‘th’ returning Sun…rises, flits, expands, and dies…/ [in turn], Hopes’s harbinger [the rainbow], ephemeral as the summer fly/ [also] rises, flits, expands, and dies.” That’s when I twig that Turner did not even bother to include the rainbow in his painting! What else can one expect of an artist who did not show any signs of religiosity during his lifetime…Oh, well, Dr. Robison did discuss all the ways in which the surgery could go wrong….
The Great Wave off Kanagawa is a woodblock print by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai, created in late 1831 during the Edo period of Japanese history (1600s to 1800s.) The print depicts three boats moving through a storm-tossed sea, with a large wave forming a Golden Spiral [aka Fibonacci- or logarithmic spiral]. Mount Fuji is visible in the background.
During the 7 weeks of me trying to make time go faster toward next Tuesday (21st) when I will have my surgery, my life has—by necessity—into an even smaller oyster than before. Peter and I limited our contact with people to only a handful of our dearly-held souls. A truly positive result of our agreed-upon hermeticism is that my dementia has been much more under control: as always, my head works much better when I am alone, except for happy intervals with Peter, for most of the day. While giving up social engagement is a huge price to pay for better focus, I found that—like John Travolta’s character in Phenomenon after he sees a flash of light, I have access to (what is for my dementia brain) “extraordinary mental abilities.” (To throw in a Turner, we all know that while my mind now “rises” and “flits”, it will again “die”—and we all know the hidden dangers of anesthesia…) But nothing daunts me, since I also have my emotions much better in hand than when I “live big” and engage more with the world. I manage to laugh off this morning’s now-shattered rainbows, and William Turner’s cynical undermining of his sublime painting, and Katsushika Hokusai’s destructive wave. Such thought-catastrophes will not destroy the lift I’m getting from my reclusive phase. In addition, with your heart-expanding comments, calls, and cards, all laden with good wishes for my surgery and recovery, you, my Readers, have raised my “bi-polar” elation to the height of Bunyan’s Celestial City.
To see a clearer version of this post’s featured image (above), namely John Bunyan’s A Plan of the Road from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City, click this Facebook page of The Analytical Psychology Club of New York. I love it that Bunyan’s journey follows the shape of a Spiralis mirabilis, or logarithmic spiral. Erratum, day after posting: Uh-oh, I have to do a Turner on myself: While falling asleep last night, I realized that the spiral above is not logarithmic. To be so, the distances between its turns must keep in becoming larger, they must fling themselves out with increasing enthusiasm deeper into the vastness of the universe, like the spectacular spiral arms of our own Milky Way or the large spiral galaxy NGC 1232. Bunyan’s spiral is rather a bit of a mix between a logarithmic spiral and an Archimedean spiral, “like that of the groove in a phonograph record, in which the distance between adjacent coils, measured out from the center, is constant”.
While reading one of the books that whiled away the long wait, I ran across some lines from Pilgrim’s Progress, a small part of which I included in this post’s title. Since I had merely dipped into Pilgrim’s Progress in graduate school, I looked through it a bit more, but still have not read it through—just enough to verify that, as I had learned in the past, was usually read as an allegory of the Protestant view of Christianity. That’s likely why I did not take to it before, since that is a perspective with which I’d lived uncomfortably while growing up. Now, fired up about the quote I found and Bunyan’s marvelous illustration, which utilized one of my favorite geometric figures—the logarithmic spiral—I looked at Pilgrim’s Progress with rainbow-circled eyes. I found analyses that positively endeared me to the book, since they added to the religious allegory also “a hybrid of the early novel, the moral dialogue, the romance, the folk story, the picaresque novel, the epic, the dream-vision, and the fairy tale.” As I read on, I found that I could even identify with Christian’s “sins”, i.e., his psychological struggles about his moral failings as well as with his yearning for mental/psychic peace as he searches for an ethical life.
“Just as CHRISTIAN came up to the cross, his burden sloughed off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble; and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.”
According to no less a believer than C.S. Lewis, one of the most influential Christian authors of the 20th century, Bunyan’s book is accessible to “Everyman” because the author achieved what Lewis himself would attempt (and achieve) in Narnia, namely bring down the “high theme” of taking responsibility for one’s moral agency by casting the challenge in an unsophisticated tale that traverses places in one’s known environment—for Bunyan, it was the Bedfordshire countryside (where he lived). For example, the Slough of Despond is modeled after the marshes in Tempsford, House Beautiful on Houghton House (now a ruin), just outside Ampthill. Farther afield, the Land of Beulah is Middlesex County, the Very Deep River is the Thames, and the Celestial City is London. Many of Bunyan’s characters, too, are modeled on people he knew. For example, the Evangelist is based on his friend John Gifford, who was the leader of a non-conformist group at St John’s Church, Bedford. Even the heavy burden representing the things Christian has done wrong, and which trouble him, is also based on the writer’s own life: in his work as a tinker, he carried a heavy anvil on his back as he walked from place to place. This is a story I can identify with: in my discussion with soulmates and in my writing I constantly attempt to “bring down” my daily “Everywoman” struggles to my own psychological -and physical environment, all the while trying to live ethically and honestly by not taking my eye off my ethical convictions, which include staying healthy, loving big, and “embrace[ing] joy as a moral obligation” (André Gide). I end with more lines of the Pilgrim’s Progress quote that, in fact, inspired this post:
The hill, though high, I covet to ascend;
The difficulty will not me offend,
For I perceive the way to life lies here.
Leonardo da Vinci’s St. John the Baptist (1513-1516). St. John’s mouth has the same “this-joke-is between-you- and-me” smile so admired on the face of Mona Lisa. It is believed to be da Vinci’s final painting.
March 19, 2023 @ 5:56 pm
What a delightful blog post to read on this sunny Sunday after a slightly breezy walk with my sweetheart, Russ.
Thank you for the post and for the update. I will enjoy perusing all the links you shared as well! God bless you bunches.
I’m marking my calendar and setting an alarm on my phone so I remember to pray especially on March 21st for the very best outcome for you through your surgery. I am acquainted with the perils of anesthesia so safety for your brain will definitely be one focus of my prayers for you that day.
I am believing with you and Peter for only good to come of this surgery, dear Gerda, and look forward to reading your update on the other side of that day.
Your friend and fellow dementia warrior,
May 5, 2023 @ 12:45 pm
Dear Cheryl, I belatedly have to let you know that your prayers came through for me–the surgery went very well and I feel totally recovered. My head was really off for a while, but is now not so far in space any more! I love to think of you as my “fellow dementia warrior.” It’s always so good that one is not alone in understanding the complexities of the disease. I with you and Russ a world of blessings. So good to be your friend and that you are mine.
March 20, 2023 @ 2:05 am
My thoughts are with you for your surgery. I read your blog regularly and always find your honesty and creativity thought provoking and uplifting. Thank you for taking the time to write and for sharing your experiences.
May 5, 2023 @ 12:46 pm
Dear Caro, as you see I am very behind in responding to your wonderful comment. Thanks for telling me that my blog means something to me. That is what inspires me to write even when I am down and I feel I have nothing to say. I appreciate you being in touch. So glad to have your love and encouragement.
March 20, 2023 @ 7:32 pm
You sound very chipper and that makes me glad–not as glad as I will be at this time tomorrow though. All my atheist prayers will be with you and I KNOW my faith will be answered. Because this universe needs you and Dona Quixote to be done with these pain-in-the-butt (!) problems and return to a life of goodness and joy. Big Hug…
May 5, 2023 @ 12:49 pm
Dearest Shen, As you see I am about three blog posts behind on responding to comments! Thank my lucky stars that I have been able to comment to you constantly about everything hard as well as joyful in my life. I treasure our weekly Zooms and am so grateful for the get-togethers over coffee. You are my example of how to live amid difficulties far beyond what i have ever experienced. Love you so much.
March 21, 2023 @ 4:52 pm
Dear Gerda, I have always appreciated aspects of the Pilgrim’s Progress. Thanks for your insights. Blessings to you in surgery and recovery. Maxine
May 5, 2023 @ 4:28 pm
Dear Maxine, so lovely to hear from you–a fellow pilgrim in finding the “straight way” out of Dante’s and Bunyan’s twisty roads to wherever we find our Celestial Kingdom. Thanks for your good wishes for my surgery–they have worked! I now feel completely recovered. My best to you and yours.
March 21, 2023 @ 5:23 pm
Your surgery is probably completed. I am praying that you and Peter have all of the mercies that you need, as you recover.
May 5, 2023 @ 4:29 pm
Thanks so much for your prayers, Joyce. It took me so long to respond to your kind comment that I am, indeed, well recovered from my surgery. My warmest wishes to you and yours.