Beauty Resurrected

Beauty Resurrected

Awakening Wonder in the Consulting Room

January/February 2001

In Brooklyn, circa 1957--when doctors still smoked cigarettes while examining their patients in small stuffy rooms--I was in a hospital, 12 years old, dying. If I hadn't been fever crazed I might have known I was dying, for we were poor, we lived in what was then called "slums" and what was I doing in a private room? In those days, before health insurance as we know it now, and before federal programs, my family had no possibility of paying the bill. I was a "charity case," and, with true charity, the hospital had given me a private room to die in. My diagnosis had something to do with "acute malnutrition"--in other words, hunger--complicated by a seemingly untreatable fever. Though nobody told me what was going on, I should've known I was dying when my aunts (my father's sisters) visited. For my aunts to be in the same room as my mother was an event; they did not often speak. In a Sicilian family, grudges go deep, so when my aunts and my mother treated each other tenderly . . . well, I must have been dying. But my family and the doctors, and even my skinny fever-wracked body, all seemed then, and in memory seem now, like figures in a dream. What was most real to me, and what remains vivid even now, was the window.

For several days and nights, too weak to lift my head, all my attention was fixed on that window. It was . . . just a window. Nothing remarkable about it. But pigeons would alight on the sill, suddenly, as though out of nowhere. They would make their…

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