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The Illicit Smell ...

John Updike died this week.

I remember most warmly an Updike story the New Yorker published in the eighties. In it, he described a New England weekend trip. Several apparently successful couples sharing a large country house. In the morning, he captured the tenuous space between the professional and the deeply personal by describing how, in spite of every doctor's best advice (at least one of these vacationers was, I seem to remember, a doctor), the house was filled with the illicit smell of bacon.

I love the image. My life, probably yours too, is punctuated with the illicit smell of bacon. We don't smoke except sometimes. We are, like the couples in Updike's story, generally faithful. We are kind, usually. Nothing unconditionally.

Life is conditional. Our balance beam is altogether too narrow, our feet occasionally insubstantial. We live until we die.

Bye, John. Delightful knowing you.

Yesterday's New York Times carried the following fitting requiem.


It came to me the other day:
Were I to die, no one would say,
“Oh, what a shame! So young, so full
Of promise — depths unplumbable!”

Instead, a shrug and tearless eyes
Will greet my overdue demise;
The wide response will be, I know,
“I thought he died a while ago.”

For life’s a shabby subterfuge,
And death is real, and dark, and huge.
The shock of it will register
Nowhere but where it will occur.


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