Lucretius (Titus Lucretius Carus) 99-55 BC De Rerum Nalura "On the Nature of Things"
It's been difficult, these past few weeks, staying focused on my writing although so far somehow I've managed to keep a decent schedule and make a wee bit of progress. In addition I started the two writer's workshops at my home twice a week and had preparations to do for them as well as the new set of Memoirs that I teach every Thursday morning downtown.
Three weeks ago my son was rushed to emergency in what turned out to be a serious infection in his colon which required emergency surgery. The facts are all being disclosed now, how close to dying he was, how very serious the infection was (almost flesh-eating disease) and that without the alertness of the doctors he would not be with us now. Yes, it was shocking, so sudden and unexpected, and now he's facing at least 8 months to a year of dealing with a colostomy.
In addition to this crisis, a close friend of mine had back surgery this week. She knew it was 50-50 whether she'd survive due to a serious heart condition. Yesterday she was in critical condition in the ICU and we expected the worst possible outcome. Amazingly today the news is better and it looks like once again this feisty, strong lady has cheated Charon out of a boat trip.
As if all this hasn't been enough to distract me completely, this week I got a call from another very dear friend of mine who says his throat cancer has returned and he stands a chance of losing his voice box. How horrible! The very thought of never being able to speak again must be devastating. And I can't imagine never hearing his voice, that Midland England accent, that sense of humour of his.
By midweek I felt swamped, overwhelmed by all these crises. At best I tried to keep writing, immersed myself in my workshop and Memoir groups which are interesting and inspiring as well as a lot of fun, went out with friends to hear some jazz and drink crantinis and just generally tried to stay focused, not to dwell on the negative possibilities and to keep on praying that good things will happen: that my son will be free of pain and recover, my friend will survive the back surgery and her heart will hold out awhile longer, and that somehow Thomas won't lose his voice-box.
All week I forced myself to work on my novel, spent more hours doing research, sorted out the tangled web of intrigue, edited, revised and at last began to write. Oddly, the part of my novel I am writing just now deals with crisis and strength in the face of grave danger.
It felt cathartic to write the new passages. I was able to transfer some of the intense drama that has been going on around me into the drama of the story. Here's a little bit of what I wrote today:
SCENE: Athens is on the verge of civil war with the Democrats and Aristocrats battling over an edict passed by Polyperchon, the new Regent of Macedon allowing disinfanchised citizens and exiles back into the city so they can claim back their land which had been expropriated by the Aristocrats. The Democrats won't accept the edict unless Macedon agrees to remove their military garrison. The Aristocrats support the oligarchies established by the old Regent, Antipater, and many are friends of Kassandros, the deputy Regent who means to overthrow Polyperchon. The military governor of Athens, PHOKION, is caught in the midst of the turmoil and because of his indecision has been accused of being a traitor. He goes to the Macedonian camp outside the city to appeal to the Commander only to find that, instead of coming to Athens to help establish peace, apparantly Polyperchon means to seize control and fortify the garrison against Kassandros and his faction. He has sent a letter asking Phokion to help him by urging Nikanor, the garrison commander, to ally with him against Kassandros.
Phokion accepted the letter and unsealed it. As he read what Polyperchon had written, his heart raced and anger welled up inside of him. In it, Polyperchon demanded a meeting to discuss the Royal edict and the political unrest in Athens. The Regent offered him protection if he assisted his son, Alexandros, in seizing command of the garrison. Apparantly Polyperchon meant to take control of the city himself.
Polyperchon's letter veils a plot to destroy me, he thought. He seeks to win over Athens by allowing the rabble back in order to overwhelm the government. Clearly Polyperchon means to banish me and if so, the assembly will once again be dominated by demagogues and public informers.
"If the Regent can not guarantee the Athenians their democracy, the Athenians will not obey the edict," he retorted bluntly.
"Phokion!" Alexandros said sternly. "Don't you see your time has come to an end? You're an old man now, and you have served your City well. But Athens is already on the verge of civil war and if you do not cede and obey, you stand to not only lose your poisition as military governor, but your life."
"I will never resign my position nor will I allow my City to be taken over by foreigners," Phokion declared.
"I advise you, Sir, to agree to my father's terms. Phokion, you must negotiate with Nikanor, convince him to meet with me."
"I see," Phokion replied. "Apparantly I have no choice but to appeal to Nikanor on your behalf even though he has already back-stabbed me by blockading the harbour and seizing Pireaus. You have bound me to agree to this just as a prisoner is bound and led to his death. I came here to appeal to Macedon to restore our democracy. Instead it appears that Macedon means to retain a hold on Athens, and though the Regent has offered to abolish the oligarchies, we will be less free than before, ruled instead by a military force."
"If you do not ally yourself with us, and thus chose to return to the city without our protection, you will surely be killed," Alexandros replied tersely.
Phokion's brows furrowed. He knew that if he did not treat with Macedon now, he would face banishment, or worse. "I will never abandon Athens." His jaw set firmly and he leaned forward, glaring fiercely at the Commander. "Tell your father the time is not propitious for me to desert my people."
In truth, he saw his own demise, caught as he was between two opposing forces. The scales were tipped in Polyperchon's favour but he stubbornly refused to relinquish his own position. How could he let his beloved Athens be torn apart again, forced to bow under the military might of these northerners who he had once considered his allies?
"If you refuse to try to convince Nikanor to ally with us, and choose to disregard the Regent's orders," Alexander said, "I can not guarantee your safety."
"If I must sacrifice my life to save my city, I shall count this a happy fate," Phokion replied. He felt a sudden melancholy as he spoke. "I will not accept the choice of banishment, nor will I be offered as a sacrifice, led like an ox to be slain on the Maiden's altar." He raised his fist in a victory salute. "Eleutheria!" he cried. "Freedom!" He stood and drew himself up to his full height, lifting his chin proudly, though he could feel himself trembling. "I have braved the might of Macedon fearlessly and offered to treat with them only to save Athens the same fate as Thebes. If my opponents wish to condemn me, so be it. When I am buried, let my winding sheet be the white one of liberty and may no man ever say that Phokion betrayed his City."
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"If you are very valiant, it is a god, I think, who gave you this gift."
Homer 700 BC "The Iliad" l. 178