“This Infuriatingly Intricate Web”

A well-known local author mentioned at the most recent of his readings I attended that he’s writing a book about koans – a book I can’t wait to read, because isn’t life just a series of unfolding koans? Have I ever actually solved one? Some days, it seems to me, not likely.

My daughter spied a V of geese winging south yesterday, the first we’ve seen of this season, but one among countless Vs we’ve watched since she was a tiny girl, her arm crooked around my neck. Fall is familiar, graciously beautiful, infinitely sad, followed by the brilliant beauty of sparse winter: the same Vermont story, year after year, and yet I’m always surprised by the September mornings’ cool mist, the cucumber vines shriveling, all done with this life.

Cooking dinner yesterday, I read an article in the New Yorker about that terrible disease, cancer. Innocuously enough, the article begins with mollusks in Lake Michigan, journeys through seed and soil, and ends with a koan:

… as ambitious cancer researchers study soil as well as seed, one sees the beginnings of a new approach. It would return us to the true meaning of “holistic”: to take the body, the organism, its anatomy, its physiology—this infuriatingly intricate web—as a whole. Such an approach would help us understand the phenomenon in all its vexing diversity; it would help us understand when you have cancer and when cancer has you. It would encourage doctors to ask not just what you have but what you are.

– Siddhartha Mukherjee



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