“When you are old, anything that does not disturb you is a comfort. Cold and darkness and boredom long ago lost their sharp edges for us, but warmth, singing, spring–no, they would all be disturbances.”
-a lost knight in the mad king’s castle; Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn
Beagle says we can get there when we’re old, but I think I’ve struggled with this my whole life. Apathy, boredom, disconnection, unhappiness, stagnation–all of these can be comfortable. There’s an old image of evolving life inching its way out of the primordial soup and onto dry land. I often find myself going the other way: back into that lukewarm glump to vegetate. In my senior year of college, a friend called and asked if I was “okay.” I opened my mouth to say, “of course I am, but thanks,” and then paused to look around. I was sitting alone in a room, watching the fourth season of Stargate SG-1. I’d been doing more or less the same thing, with bouts of studying, for three days. I wasn’t okay. But I was comfortable.
This all came rushing back to me a few days ago. I’ve been at my mother’s house in California, and whenever I’m here, my ten year old brother asks if I’ll sleep in his room. Whenever I do, it turns into a wonderful little sleepover: I’ll read to him (or, lately, maybe, he’ll read to me), and then I’ll sing a bit, and then we’ll chat in that hazy, on-the-edge-of-sleep space for a little while. Looking back, I know this will be a moment I treasure: a magic of being brothers. And this whole summer, until last week, I hadn’t slept in his room. Not once. I hadn’t, because I was comfortable. Because it was easier to stay in another room. Because he goes to sleep so much earlier. I hadn’t for all the endless, practical reasons that carry some weight in the moment, and yet, looking back, are grains of sand compared to the planet of my chance to have a younger brother.
In Manhood for Amateurs, Michael Chabon writes that we throw away almost all of the beautiful moments life offers. There are so many of them: like the tide of cherry blossoms that, if we were in Japan, a stiff May wind might bring us. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to catch all of those blossoms, but I’m going to read to my brother tonight, and sing to him, and then lie there chatting. It will disturb my routine. It won’t be as comfortable as staying downstairs. But it will be so much more of the life I want to live.
The wind blows, sometimes making my eyes water: I can look down, sheltering in the lull, or I can look up and reach for the blowing blossoms.