In between the Kingdoms of the Well and Sick
Travels in the Third Place
Hola Global Jigsaw,
The middle of a long illness is like treading still water. The turbulence of diagnosis has died down. You are no longer drowning in shock. The operatic imaginings of your imminent funeral – everyone blubbering about how wonderful you were - have dissipated, replaced by the mundane reality of physiotherapy. The bloodier parts of surgical mutilations have healed. You have taken up meditation. The flower deliveries have stopped, and friends no longer feel compelled to check up on you incessantly.
And so, you take up residence in the Third Place, the one in between the Kingdoms of the Well and the Sick. Everything is quasi about this geography. You walk about it with quasi-normal levels of energy. The hospital is an important place in this new country, its quasi-capital. The doctors and nurses are like a quasi-constitutional authority, determining the fundamental rights and obligations of those who wander in these lands.
Blood tests and histological reports form the syntax of the language spoken here. You learn the new idiom quickly enough, even though you may not have displayed a talent for tongues earlier.
Your travels in the Third Place are less frenetic than in the Kingdom of the Sick, for you’ve already googled yourself to saturation. You can tell your epirubicin from your cisplatin, your PICC from your port-a-cath. You’re a quasi-medical expert by the time you’re in the Inbetween.
Yet in the end, you realize that this information, that once seemed so vital, it kept you tapping on keyboards all night, isn’t going to give you a greater say in your itinerary. This is a journey where certain pitstops are unavoidable. But if you’re lucky, you can trudge on towards the borders of the territory, beyond which the home you grew up in, the Kingdom of the Well, shimmers seductively.
As you become better acquainted with Third Place topography, a realization dawns. This is not somewhere bereft of pleasure. There is almost absurd joy to be had in taking a walk in the park on a fine day, or having a warm bath on a cold one, when the memory of being able to do neither is still fresh. And negative pleasures, the lack of pain, the absence of nausea, the removal of needles from your veins, are more profound than gratifications unleavened by difficulty. It’s the difference between having a glass of water because its handy, and having one after you’ve been thirsty for hours. The absence of thirst that follows its prolonged presence is ambrosial.
Even the most inhospitable terrain can benefit the traveler if you approach the experience with a sense of curiosity, or better yet, wonder. The right attitude lessens the culture shock, and it’s always best to judge a place for what it is, rather than what it isn’t. Nowhere, is wholly bad. I know this for fact, having lived in 9 countries, 10 if you include the Inbetween that I inhabit currently. Beijing had bad air, but great food. Brussels was boring, but its weekend farmer’s markets were fabulous. Jakarta’s traffic was hellish, but the people stuck in the gridlock were so sweet tempered.
The Third Place can certainly be hard going, but it is made easier by the love of friends, the sorority of fellow travelers, the tacit permission to binge Netflix guilt-free and the gratitude for all you have – cats, music, spring blossoms, anesthesia.
In the Inbetween your body is beset, but your mind can see more clearly the true value of things, specifically of time. What a strange currency time is: it can both run and stand still. It is fungible, yet irreversible. In every avatar it is precious.