I believe in pleasure. Not only physical sensation (though I think it’s good to feel good), but keen, on-going pleasures that drive action and memory.
I came to this realization when I was taking a routine airline flight. As I checked in online, I had to decide where I wanted to sit: by the window, of course! How can anyone lose the partly scary, partly exhilarating sensation of height and motion that comes from looking out the window of an airplane? On the flight, I saw the light break into gold and blue as the sun met the plane above the clouds. When the clouds burned off, I saw the squares and circles of the plains so far below, where the people I know best try to make sense of living and dying on the flat curve of the world.
I like taking off tight shoes, stretching a stiff neck, stepping from a cold room into hot sun, lifting my hair off my neck after an hour weeding the garden and letting the wind dry the hot sweat to cold.
In my career as a teacher, one intense pleasure comes from looking into the clear eyes of the young. I don’t mean that metaphorically—young eyes are lovely, like cracked marble, the depths of color, the white, and the curve of lash and lid.
I bury my hands in my dogs’ fur, and feel their cold noses against my skin. I sink my face into the curve of my husband’s neck, where I find the smell of our decades of pleasure together. I’m a reader, so I ask myself, if I were blind and deaf, where would I find stories? But I know that the dark storeroom of my mind, where shafts of mote-swirled sun illumine an occasional almost abandoned corner, can open into light for me if I let it.
Sometimes I talk about books with men in prison. They too are young, When I talk with them, my life opens like a flower in the warmth of their learning. We share the pleasure of thinking together.
My mother tells me that you never know who will watch your last breath leave your body. The gods of Gilgamesh, the ancient Sumerian king, say that you never know when. If I had a wish, I’d wish that that last breath would draw honeysuckle and mint, and that the last words I heard would be, “But what if . . . ?”