From Walker Percy’s famous novel, we find Lancelot feeling a sudden and strange new life at the revelation of his wife’s infidelity.  It seems that two things happened almost immediately, as he describes it: “the two most important discoveries of my own life. I discovered my wife’s infidelity and five hours later I discovered my own life. I saw it and myself clearly for the first time.” Such a rupture to the humdrum has caused him to look at/into/through himself for the first time in a long time. Percy’s depiction of what happens next is poignant:

Looking at oneself in a mirror is a self-canceling phenomenon. Eyes looking into eyes make a hole which spread out and renders one invisible. I had seen more of myself in that single glimpse of a ghostly image in the pier mirror, not knowing it was I.

What did I see? It is hard to say, but it appeared to be a man gone to seed…I moved closer…Five, six, seven years of unacknowledged idleness (it takes work to be idle and not acknowledge it), drinking and watching TV, working at play, playing at work—what does it do to a man? My hands were open in front of my face. The fingers closed and opened. I felt like Rip van Winkle waking up and testing his bones. Was anything broken?  Was I still in one piece?

via Press Street

…For the first time in years I bathed very carefully, scrubbing every inch of my body, washing my hair, cleaning and paring my nails, shaving every hair on my face. The bathwater was gray-black. I took a cold shower, scrubbed myself with a towel till the skin hurt, combed my hair, put on shorts. I lay down on the bricks and took a deep breath. The cold of the bricks penetrated the skin of my thighs. For years, I realized, I had lived in a state of comfort and abstraction, waiting for the ten o’clock news, and had not allowd myself to feel anything. When the base of my lungs filled with air and my viscera moved, I realized that I had been breathing shallowly for years. Lowering my chin, I could see the wide V-shaped flare of my ribs; the abdomen fell away out of sight. There was a cherry mle on my breastbone I had never noticed before. I had not looked at myself for years.

I stood up. Can a man stand alone, naked, and at his ease, wrist flexed at his side like Michelangelo’s David, without friends, without a woman, in silence? Yes. It was possible to stand. Nothing happened. I listened. There was no sound: no boats on the river, no trucks on the road, not even cicadas. What if I didn’t listen to the news? I didn’t. Nothing happened. I realized I had been afraid of the silence.

For the past year or so, I had been walking carefully, eyes straight ahead, like a man favoring a secret wound. There was a secret wound which I had not been able to admit, even to myself. Now I could.