I took my time, savoring each word, but I finally finished Moby-Dick for the second time. These past few weeks I’ve been feeling like Ahab on the eve of the three-day chase of the White Whale. Reflecting on his life, Ahab asks Starbuck:
Here, brush this old hair aside; it blinds me, that I seem to weep. Locks so grey did never grow but from out some ashes! But do I look so old, so very, very old, Starbuck? I feel deadly faint, bowed, and humped, as though I were Adam, staggering beneath the piled centuries since Paradise.
Yet, despite my arthritic joints and pinched nerves, at times I feel like Ahab at the end of the second day of the chase after Moby-Dick has destroyed two boats from under him, and shredded his peg leg.
But even with a broken bone, old Ahab is untouched; and I account no living bone of mine one jot more me, than this dead one that’s lost. Nor white whale, nor man, nor fiend, can so much graze old Ahab in his own proper and inaccessible being. Can any lead touch yonder floor, any mast scrape yonder roof?
Even though I wake up every morning with my hands so swollen and stiff that I cannot close them in a fist, even though the tips of my fingers have been numb for the last two weeks, I still chase my white whale of an essay, running those fingers along this keyboard.
My writing may disappear in the electronic cloud after I’m gone, but like the wake that Ahab uses to follow his quarry through the night: “… the proverbial evanescence of a thing writ in water, a wake is to all desired purposes well nigh as reliable as the steadfast land.”
Ken, I love this account of your reading. Your reflections on Moby Dick–and on Ahab/aging–are both powerful and painful. Don’t give up on your white whale!