Maybe my fate is already in my hands

When I go to the doctor I come up from the subway at 5th and Market. Every ailment, every checkup, I have to walk past Independence Hall and Congress Hall and the Liberty Bell. I pass horse-drawn carriages, a quiet worry, what if it’s skin cancer, weaving among tourists, please don’t be skin cancer. Then I turn the corner onto Chestnut. Suddenly I’m thinking of Jefferson and mosquitoes and gavels and how this block must have smelled like wig powder and manure and who knows what else. Suddenly the world is teeming with lives again, with fortunes and sacred honor. For a few seconds I forget the dread in my belly.

My doctor’s office is in the Curtis Building, half a block off Chestnut. There’s an enormous Tiffany glass mosaic in the lobby. On the way up it barely registers. I walk past in a daze. Nothing sinks in. I can think only of the bad news that might be waiting for me upstairs in the exam room. Maybe I’ve been carrying the bad news around with me for days. Maybe my fate is already in my hands, my left hand, this disconcerting lump that’s appeared at the base of my thumb.—But no, it turns out. No. Not there, not yet. On my way out I stop to look at Maxwell Parrish and Louis Comfort Tiffany’s Dream Garden. I’m too close to see the full scene. It doesn’t matter. All those colors of sunset and hay, the turquoise and the cloudy brown, the foliage spilling forth: I’ll let it all touch me, today, when by some small grace even a few raised bumps of poison ivy seem like leaves of favrile glass.

November 1, 2011