It's a nuisance having a chronic health condition. In my youth, I mostly tried to ignore it -- as if by pretending that the Beast lumbering behind me wasn't there, then no one else would notice his presence. And yet there he'd be...disconcerting, disagreeable, and endlessly disruptive. Lurking over my shoulder in New York editorial meetings, pacing the floor at the Endicott Studio in Boston, riding shotgun in the truck in which I moved to Arizona, making himself entirely at home across the ocean in Devon. If this were a fairy tale, I would have learned to love him, and then discovered he was really a handsome prince in disguise....
But no, he's just Beast, and as Beastly as ever. During good stretches of time he sits muttering in the corner and I can get on with my life without paying much mind...until all of a sudden he jumps up and bellows, demanding attention, demanding my time. He is sometimes alarming, sometimes merely annoying, but always a downright nuisance -- not only to me but to family, friends, and work partners who gently, patiently take my abrupt disappearance from daily life in stride (bless them all).
There is one good turn the Beast has done me, however; one good thing that his shuffling, snuffling, discomforting presence has brought to my life: the time to read.
He gives me long, still hours in quiet bedrooms, doctors' waiting rooms, hospital corridors (awaiting scans, blood draws and tests) and anxious days in hospital beds. In those places, reading is sometimes all that I can do, and that's a genuine, if back-handed, gift. Thus to the bane of my life, it seems to me now, I also owe one of my life's greatest blessings: the wide range of books that live inside me, that have shaped my mind and formed the writer I've become. Perhaps it's a fairy tale after all: not the kind that ends "happily ever after," but the kind where straw turns into gold, milk maids into heroes, Beasts into grey-muzzled old companions.
So come sit beside me, old Beast, old friend. Let me read you a story. This one's for you.
Art above: "Beauty and the Beast" by Victorian painter Eleanor Vere Boyle (1825-1916); and reading in bed with sweet Tilly, my other daily companion (since the Beast is too shy to be photographed himself). This post is dedicated not only to the Beast, but also to the patient friends, family members, and work partners mentioned above. You are saints and I love you.