Saturday, April 18, 2009

Paradise Found

Extreme fatigue, like almost everything else, is a two-edged sword. By the last days of tax season, it didn't take much to bruise my usual unflappability. I was so worn out when I slouched out of the office at 4:30 on April 15th that I forgot to turn on my out of office autoresponse on Outlook, and I forgot to change to my alternate greeting on my voicemail. If that's not one step away from a nervous breakdown, I don't know what is. Actually, I don't know whether people even have nervous breakdowns any more. It seems like such a vague diagnosis that surely it must have ended with the 20th century. I reckon (though I don't know and of course can't be bothered to research) that nowadays people must have psychotic breaks or manic episodes or periods of severe depression. Or something. Back in the day, I occasionally felt like a nervous breakdown would be a good path for me, but I could never figure out what the first step was. It was like I'm ready for my nervous breakdown, but now what? Do I just find a corner, sit there, and drool? That seemed a bit too distasteful to me, so I always just continued to fake sanity.

Anyway, sometime around 8:53 on the morning of April 16th, I experienced the other edge of the sword when I was sitting at one of the United gates in Dulles airport, eating my breakfast burrito from one of the fast food establishments there, when b&c approached and told me that his request to use 30,000 of his frequent flyer miles to acquire an upgrade to first class for the two of us on our flight to St. Thomas.

It was as if the Buddha were smiling just for me.

I imagine that upgrades to first class are relatively common for people who travel more often than I do, but it was a first for me, and I really can't explain just how pleased my tired self was. Suddenly I was one of the elect, and neither the fact that I'd be back in coach five days hence nor my entire belief system kept me from feeling smugly superior to the poor slobs who didn't have the sense to end up with a partner who flies a lot.

First class simultaneously wasn't and was all that. My sense of giddiness quickly gave way to an acute recognition of the absence of annoyance. Yes, the flight attendant was very attentive, and yes, we got a pretty good breakfast and as much to drink as we wanted (B&c had two gin and tonics, before 11 am. What a lush.), but what really made it special was that I wasn't subjected to the tiny seats, the negligible leg room, the noise, and the general atmosphere of misery not loving company that is the inevitable experience of coach, especially now that the flights are always so full. I was even able to sleep (I almost never can in coach, even on long or overnight flights), and I arrived in the Virgin Islands feeling unstressed.

Sadly, I was also wearing black jeans and a black t-shirt, and the sun was very forceful, so by the time we'd walked the half-mile to our hotel, I was feeling tired and ragged again. But a quick shower and a trip to the beach set all that right, very quickly. The beach here is beautiful, and the water is both gorgeous and welcoming. After twenty minutes or so of various strokes alternating with floating on my back with my ears submerged and my eyes closed so that I heard nothing but my own breathing and the occasional murmur of the ocean and I saw nothing but the orange and yellow of sunlight through closed lids, I lay on my chaise longue, in the warm shade, reading and dozing, dozing and reading.

I had brought along Call Me by Your Name, which I had seen recommended somewhere by another blogger, and while I would have, in general, to pronounce it the antithesis of beach reading, it is very well written, and it does contain scenes where one of the characters lays idly in the sun, by the water, with his eyes closed, occasionally saying, "This is heaven."

I am not especially comfortable with the notion of heaven, associating it as I do with a very particularly Christian idea of the final resting place of the virtuous dead. I am much more enamored of paradise, which is infinitely customizable, and nirvana, which is also somewhat particular, but comes from a religious tradition that I don't associate with guilt and punishment. In any event, lying there next to the impossibly blue water, shaded from the sun, cooled by a lazy breeze, and almost falling asleep with my book open on my chest, I experienced something like nirvana or paradise, or the extinction, at least, of concern.

People will tell you that it is good to be alive without, necessarily, implying that existence is intrinsically good. What they usually mean by "it's good to be alive" is "it certainly beats the alternative." There are certainly ways to grasp the inherent goodness of existence without flying hundreds of mile and removing oneself to a place of great natural beauty, but it really doesn't hurt. Lying there, intermittently dozing, feeling the kind embrace of the tropics, it was easy to go beyond "it's good to be alive." It's good to be.


  1. that is really my idea of Heaven (on earth...)... sun bathing, cristal warm water and feet in the sand...nice scenery... even if the beach on the picture seems too sophisticated and looks like a bit crowded for me...

  2. Enjoy your well-deserved rest...

  3. I remember the U.S. Virgins very fondly thanks to a week spent at Maho Bay on St. John. It was my first trip ever to the Caribbean and I enjoyed the complete culture and pace of life change enormously. Flying exactly six weeks after 9/11/2001 wasn't what you'd call stress-free, however.