Hush little baby, don’t you cry

May 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

This week, I am battling allergies. I am a veteran of Atlanta, where pollen blankets tuck the city in to sleep each night. We would wake up in the spring mornings to realize that the cars on the street were indistinguishable from each other, all uniformly yellow, the same way other vehicles are coated by snow in the winter. To put it in hard numbers, while the pollen count of most cities is around 500 units of whatever, in Atlanta, it stands at over 5000. A ten-fold difference, that.

When I moved to Boston, I would spy the occasional flowering tree and chuckle. I was hardier than that now. What hadn’t killed me in Atlanta, had given me strong sinuses. And indeed, for the past few weeks, as my friends began popping Claritins and Zyrtecs and I stayed immune, I felt vindicated. This morning, when a sneezing fit woke me from a deep sleep at 5 am, I felt the onset of a migraine.

I kept a stash of tissues in the pocket of my coat. I breathed through my mouth instead of making unacceptable snoring noises during lecture. In microbio lab, I declined sniffing at bacteria plated onto agar as one informal test of identification. Around three in the afternoon, I dragged myself to CVS and finally got myself some much needed Benadryl.

Traumatized over the prospect of having to go through yet another season of allergies, I started working my way through the seven stages of grief. I was shocked at first, and went through seven hours of denial. But then the pain of my migraine kicked in and I also started to feel guilty for imposing my sniffles on my classmates. I am currently in the righteous anger stage, and I have begun to bargain.

I would give up desserts for the whole week if I could just breathe through my nose again. I could consider a curfew of 11 pm if I could sleep without having a sneezing fit. Take my Facebook privileges away, just give me back an uncongested voice!

On a more serious and decently related note, a friend just sent me a brilliant essay in the June issue of Vanity Fair, Unspoken Truths, in which Christopher Hitchens writes about the essential link between speech and prose. Hitchens, fighting cancer that has now begun to attack his vocal cords and thereby cripple his highly witty and opinionated personality, writes that he never speculated much about being struck dumb. But that to a great degree, in both public and private, he really “was” his voice. Hitchens says that his career as a serious writer did not really take off until someone gave him the most valuable advice of his life, that is, to write as he talked.

I’m struck by the realization that we often don’t know what’s important to us until it’s taken away. What really forms the crux of our happiness, and then we don’t have it anymore. It could be our ability to sleep well, the way we look in the mirror, the support of our families, our capacity for expression. Perhaps tonight I’ll count my blessings.

Just so I am aware of them, at the very least.

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