For years there has been a column in my clipping archive. At the very front. No single clipping has received a higher place than this one. Every time I read it as if it is new and every time I fully agree with what it says. It is a column of Dutch author Arnon Grunberg that was published on February 24, 2015. He wrote or still writes (I don’t know) a weekly column in the VPRO television guide under the title Yasha. And I only cut out this one of all those columns and saved it.
Today the clipping went through my hands again and again I wondered: should I keep it? I now decided to keep it and share the text with you.
I associate illness with weakness and weakness has to be prevented. In theory I am open-minded and can tolerate everything, but in practice I shudder for sickness and weakness, especially when it gets too close. By which I mean that I shiver for my own weakness, although I also find other people’s weakness to be gruesome when I am confronted from close by.
This can probably be explained psychologically. My mother had little or no compassion if her children were ill, she had a tendency to make them reproaches in case of illness: ‘Why did you leave the house without a scarf, I told you so.’ And during my father’s sickbed I remember that she kept repeating: “How could you do this to us?”
This psychological explanation is too easy, too beautiful. Everything fits and when everything fits, reality is wronged. Much can be said about that reality, but a solved puzzle is not that reality at all.
For me, weakness starts with a cold. One of my missions is not to get a cold. Not that I swallow all kinds of homeopathic medicines or exaggerated with vitamin C, I excorcise the cold with willpower.
When that fails, I experience it as a personal defeat. A form of failure. Being sick, even if it is only a cold, is a form of guilty. The disease is the tangible proof of the guilt, even if the fault is not having taken enough care of yourself.
I therefore rarely visit doctors, because in principle I am not ill. Usually only when I need vaccinations for traveling to exotic areas.
One might see fear of death in all of this – a fear that you can see in almost everything – but that explanation seems too simple to me.
I would put it this way: work is the justification of my existence. If I am ill, I cannot work or work less and the justification lapses.
I fear not so much death as the point that I still exist without being able to justify that existence.
Perhaps you now want to raise all kinds of objections about, for example, that you cannot do anything about it if you get an incurable disease. That is not the point here, I think. I am referring more to the whole. If I read it with my wide view, so not through a tunnel view, then it’s right for me.
All words fit in my image about the meaning of existence. And that meaning is being a contribution to society. Whether you write books or do something else, you can always be a contributor.