A few years ago I read a profile about a successful neurosurgeon who had pioneered a way to remove a brain tumor from the head of a conscious patient. The author clearly admired the doctor, but also described him as seeming to have something he did not want to discuss, something that he feared and from which he wanted to hide. He had a sense that a key to his success was that he worked so hard to avoid whatever this thing was, to keep, as the doctor put it, the wolf from the door.
The phrase has stuck in my mind ever since. Originally used to represent financial desperation and destitution, the wolf, as I feel it, is the knowledge of eventual decline and death. It is the uniquely human burden of the certainty that Bad Things Happen and the terror that it is impossible to know when or where or how they will happen to you.
There is a tendency in depression and other mental illnesses to obsess over this burden, to feel that much of the world is frivolous, that the true reality is bleak and painful and that because of this everything else is pointless. The former assertion may be true; the latter is a protective lie, a comfortable if dark delusion that allows one to avoid participating in life and thus escape some of its cruelty. I am constantly learning that not only is it not frivolous to indulge heartily in the banalities of life despite their ultimate pointlessness, it is, in fact, the bravest way to live, the only way to attain some manner of sanity and well-being and, sometimes, even happiness.
The wolf is real, and it will get you. That much is inevitable. But staring at it is not living. This blog is one of the things I do instead.