When I was in law school, I was sick half the time. It usually had something to do with my lungs. I had pneumonia. I had pleurisy. Bronchitis was routine. My close friend and classmate, Roger, was also regularly stricken with nasty bugs. When one of us collapsed under the weight of casebooks and even the commonest of colds, we’d spend hours on the phone examining and cross-examining the dread details of our lives: what we wanted, what went wrong, what might become of us. We agonized over perceived failures and tragic possibilities — until we were set right by a comic strip.
Now, in honor of cold and flu season — and after days of dragging myself around with a cough that’s starting to remind me of contracts, torts, and criminal procedure — I’d like to recap the wisdom of Marlys, from Ernie Pook’s Comeek, by Linda Barry (circa 1992).
First, a few questions from Marlys to help you determine whether you are, in fact, sick:
Are you feeling too sensitive about everything? Also very sad about your horrible life and personality?
Do the walls look like they are breathing and do you have a dream of hairballs in holes dug in the back yard by the next door neighbor who shouts, “It’s a surprise!” Then you wake up all sweaty because it was so realistic!
Do you feel like crying because it feels like a vacuum-cleaner is going back and forth on the inside of your head and a shell-no-pest-strip is tied onto your face?
If your answer to more than one of these questions is yes, then you may indeed by sick. (If your answer to only the first question is yes, then you may have PMS — not usually Roger’s problem — or it may just be one of those days.) Just remember that if you are sick, this is the number one thing that you should not do:
Don’t go thinking about your life, because you might decide insane things. (I’m sick because it’s God’s punishment for my many sins, which I deserve. For I am terrible in thought and deed. It has finally caught up with me.)
And here’s the other thing you should know:
You will feel better. You will feel fantastic. You will feel incredible. You will feel like a fantastic, incredible mindblower pretty soon. But no more running outside all barefooted!
Roger and I took this in and summed it up in one handy phrase: rule number one. Do not analyze your life at the height of viral replication.
Of all the rules I learned in law school — the rule against perpetuities, the best evidence rule, the prudent man rule — rule number one made the most sense. And, more than fifteen years later, it’s the only law-school rule that I regularly use. Roger and I still talk on the phone together and sometimes all we can say is, “Rule number one . . . rule number one.”
This, too, shall pass.