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Through the night

January 9, 2010

Featured Article, Words

The next time I start feeling sorry for myself and how miserable life can feel at some moments, I will recall Tony Judt’s article, “Night” in the New York Review of Books. He dictated it to someone since he has a a variant of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease. About all he can move is his neck and lips. This piece, the fist of several from him in NYRB, describes how he gets through the long nights:

Having no use of my arms, I cannot scratch an itch, adjust my spectacles, remove food particles from my teeth, or anything else that—as a moment’s reflection will confirm—we all do dozens of times a day. To say the least, I am utterly and completely dependent upon the kindness of strangers (and anyone else).

During the day I can at least request a scratch, an adjustment, a drink, or simply a gratuitous re-placement of my limbs—since enforced stillness for hours on end is not only physically uncomfortable but psychologically close to intolerable. It is not as though you lose the desire to stretch, to bend, to stand or lie or run or even exercise. But when the urge comes over you there is nothing—nothing—that you can do except seek some tiny substitute or else find a way to suppress the thought and the accompanying muscle memory.

But then comes the night . . .

The whole article (it’s not long), is worth a read.  A reminder of how significantly important it is to be able to live with ourselves and to live with the mental landscapes we’ve  generated (as Judt is courageously attempting to do). What if we were exiled to them?



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2 Responses to “Through the night”

  1. jill Says:


    My aunt had ALS.

    I wish I could volunteer to hang out with this guy at night. It would be an excellent use of my night owl tendencies.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    Although I sometimes think it’s rather pathetic that it’s stories like these that can help me be grateful for all that I have, it’s the truth. Good health alone, is a remarkable, wonderful gift.

  2. douglas Says:

    Thanks for the note, Jill. I was so moved by this piece, I wrote the fellow and suggested a metta or loving-kindness meditation that my meditation teacher taught me and which I have long used when hit with insomnia late at night or just fear – the meditation has a circular, soothing, centering quality that can be repeated and explored for long periods. And he wrote back, thankful and gracious. He must have some reading set-up – or people read to him. It is true we need people in worse straits sometimes to remind us what is at hand in our own lives. Hugs to you. I hope to make it to Chi-town in this new year and would love to see you.