The tenth of February was the fifteenth anniversary of the day on which I broke my neck in a gymnastics accident. I have always noted the anniversaries inwardly, in a kind of morbid remembrance of that fateful day—that single moment, really, in the early evening—that changed my life decisively and irrevocably.
Of the 5,475 days that have passed in those fifteen years, I have felt spinal pain in nearly every one. The pain arrives swiftly, like water rushing over the shore, and recedes slowly like water sinking into the sand. And it does something else. When the pain presses down from my neck and carves a sharp burrowing path down my cervical spine and through my shoulders into my arms, I can feel my bones. I’m not normally aware of my skull, my vertebrae, my clavicle. They are submerged within me, senseless and mute. When the pain arrives, however, I can count my bones. They ache and mourn—and I am aware of them. Pain illuminates me.
This came to mind recently as I was considering the case of Christopher Hitchens.