“Which is to say love enlarges; it annexes affectionately; at its utmost it dissolves all boundaries.”

Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby


I’ve been living with my daughter’s kitten for the past three weeks while I’ve been apartment-bound after surgery; because of a metal pin in one of my toes I can’t go very far. It was one of those chance accidents that can remind us of the body, that is, how we need and live with it in space and time. My foot took on object status — a thin metal hook that juts out of my toe reminds me of this “thing” that is also a practical necessity for healing the bone. Suddenly my restricted ability to move, that is walk, created too an intimacy with my environment in ways that before were more abstract. For one I was physically dependent on people — my daughter’s patient willingness to pick up groceries for me, a friend who fit me into her schedule to drive me to the doctor twice for a change of dressing. I was also very grateful to those friends who made the trek over to keep me company. The protruding pin made me think of Frida and the horror of the freak accident on a tram which sent a rod through her back that fractured her spine and caused lifelong paralysis and grief. My accident was inconsequential in comparison but nevertheless there were consequences. I’m not used to being immobile let alone apartment-bound. My consciousness of time changed. My sense, too, of more visceral dependencies – how arrogant we can be in our assumptions of freedom.

The kitten’s energy around the apartment was both energizing and maddening… her prancings and fleet movements gave dimension to the day, as did the breeze that quickened toward evening, and the late afternoon light on the balcony. Things I am less conscious of during my full workdays in town; I managed to understand something of proximities, too. The proximity of the body’s needs and how these connect us to things beyond ourselves; I was doing some reading. Finished Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby and Brenda Shaughnessy’s Our Andromeda, a fabulous collection; this from her poem “Liquid Flesh”:

What is the point of other people,
Being so separate, if we can’t
Help a person get that pain

Will stick its shiv into anything,
Just to get rid of the weapon
And because it can? For if we share

Ourselves then they, too, must
Also be in so much pain.
I can hear it. Oh, my loves.

Yes, “my loves” were the lesson of these days, to come closer to them. But as Solnit writes: “Merging is dangerous, at least to the boundaries and definition of the self.” When those boundaries are edged, contested, pained.. how close does one get? The approach mined with various warnings of the self’s gradual loss of border and boundary. For Frida, her body’s pained shape, the catalyst for inimitable art. I was also reading blog posts and keeping up with the news. Learned that the vote to bring in the IMF/troika was less than what was, and still is, constitutionally mandated, some 50 votes short of what would have legally passed to have made this intervention a constitutionally upheld decision; another example of Papandreou’s negligence of the state’s body — his assumption, or presumption, of a freedom now crippled.

Solnit continues, of this meeting at the boundary of the self, a space of possibilities when there is empathy. Why do we have boundaries in the first place – to distance, keep some semblance of wholeness where wounds take us apart? But in our piecemeal state will we more readily recognize the other? Here’s Shaughnessy again, from “Mermaid’s Purse”: “The self is the self yet bigger than itself./Indebted. And subordinate// to its fragments,/” Indebted is what I felt continuously, but it is not a comfortable feeling. We’re raised in the west to be independent and self-sufficient. We shirk the idea of too much dependency as a sign of weakness, even cowardice. I am realizing though that the greater courage is to understand these self-sufficiencies are built out of a respect for the deeper common ground, a recognition of our insufficiency. Everything the tragedy of our leadership in these crisis years have failed to do, as they have othered, rather than embraced the common ground of the state’s crippled body, which is as true for how northern Europe has “Orientalized” the periphery and Greece in particular.

It was strange and enlightening to take myself out “crutching” one evening; that is I had had too much of cabin fever and decided that hobbling down the street with the crutches my daughter had brought me would give me some peace of mind. Life was a lot more mobile with the crutches, though no one really thought I’d go for a walk with them. I was sometimes amused as people looked my way. A stray cat seemed intrigued, and followed me for a while. A man coming out of an apartment paused for a few seconds without saying anything, and someone getting into his car seemed to consider asking me if I needed a ride though he never said anything. I’d not experienced this before and it was a lesson of how the less-than-whole body is viewed, how too I viewed myself in that state, which was impatiently and somewhat stunned that I probably wouldn’t do very well in solitary confinement. I thought though of that sense of proximity to our less-than-whole state, that Solnit also describes as “this amorous engagement with the unknown.” Unknown is also unfamiliar which is part of the challenge of proximities to what we can’t control. In the Faraway Nearby Solnit keeps coming back to the ways we distance what pains us, yet it is in that space that we also learn of what connects us. In Greece, for example, there is now a humanitarian crisis of medical resources. Food too, which was never an issue since the war years, has become scarce for many. There are collectives coming together in various neighborhoods of Nea Ioannia, Kato Patissia, Exharhia, among other areas in Athens. You can get a decent meal for 3 euros. Coffee for 50 cents. These initiatives have become necessities for survival. A German commissioner for hospitals and “patient issues” Wolfgang Zoeller called the results of the time frame imposed by the troika’s measures, “scandalous.” And “impossible to carry out.” Solnit has a long discussion of leprosy in her book and its numbing effect on its victims. They can’t feel the infected parts of the body because of the nerve damage: “The nerveless part of the body remains alive; but pain and sensation define the self; what you cannot feel is not you; what you cannot feel you do not readily take care of; your extremities become lost to you.” The pained body reminds us of our less-than-whole states, we should more readily unveil those shapes, teach ourselves to feel them.

About akalfopoulou

Author of three poetry collections, a book of essays, Ruin, Essays in Exilic Living, and most recently, A History of Too Much (Red Hen Press 2018).
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