Sunday, April 27, 2008

Living as Contradiction

MOLOKA'I, by Alan Brennert, calls up the stigma of leprosy for anyone with even a remote knowledge of the Hawaiian Islands. Just the name hints at contagion, suffering, fear while for those who have visited the island know it as a contender for paradise on earth.

Brennert's book tells us of Moloka'i immediately post Father Damien, of an island that becomes a community of the disenfranchised, but not unloved. It's a novel that reads like history and stays with you like a familiar stanza of a favorite poem.

Why does this story feel so familiar, when I've never been to Moloka'i, never suffered from a lingering disease? I think it's because it touches that place in me that reminds me of the contradiction of life: We all carry death around inside of us. We turn towards all kinds of mirrors to get a look at this little bit of death: sex, drugs, rocknroll (well maybe the last isn't an appropriate analogy unless listening to loud music could be seen as a death wish by loss of hearing.)

"Fear is good. In the right degree prevents us from making fools of ourselves. But in the wrong measure it prevents us from fully living. Fear is our boon companion but never our master."

These words are said from one sufferer of what we now call Hansen's disease to another in reference to going for it. Going for love in the shape of a lighthouse keeper on the island, a non-sufferer.

I don't know that fear has ever kept me from making a fool out of myself but it's certainly kept me from being open to love. In the next paragraph, Brennert mentions Jack London's novel, MARTIN EDEN. Is this a clue? Will I find out why I run from love? How to stop running? I'll keep you posted.