Posted by & filed under Open Letters.

Hi Pamela,

I see your last open letter was about “the big picture in physics,” and yesterday the world’s scientists (I’m not sure how many of them are there) announced the existence of “gravity waves.” Rather than comment on either of these two topics, I’m going to talk about the most important thing that happened to me lately: I had a stomach virus.

The worst part of the illness (involving, er, my stomach) lasted no more than half a day; after that followed several days of fatigue. What’s more interesting about this stomach virus is in the two days leading up to it, and ever since, I have been plagued by a sense of irritability—and not generalized irritability mind you, but only vis-à-vis certain persons, events and things. A few examples:

There’s a fellow member of my gym whom I always greet. “How are you?” I ask. He responds with an extended sigh. “I’m fine,” he says, and proceeds to tell me all the ways in which he is not. Normally, when I haven’t recently had a stomach virus, I listen, maintaining eye contact, even paraphrasing back at him things he’s just said: “What you’re saying is you don’t like American food,” I say to him, or, “It sounds to me like you don’t like Italians,”  or, “It sounds like you don’t like America.” This last week (after my stomach virus) I ran into him again at the gym.

“How are you?” I ask.

“[Sigh],” he responds. “Something really good happened to me.”

“Congratulations. It sounds like you’re excited. What happened?”

“I can’t really tell you. [Sigh]. I don’t want to jinx it.”

He proceeds to tell me instead about his sick relative. And while I was listening and attempting to maintain eye contact, my eyes started twitching. I found myself accidentally looking at a wall instead.

“I better start my work out then,” he says. “[Sigh]. That’s why we’re here, right?”

I had run into him while already in the middle of my workout. I go on to the next exercise (dips) and find I can barely support my own body on the machine. Had my stomach virus returned? Or could I merely not stomach him?

Another example: I might have mentioned to you I signed up for massage classes. The first two classes went well; were relaxing even. I had another class scheduled last night (the week after my stomach virus), and when I thought about going I wanted to lie down. Not on a massage table, no. My own bed. With great pains I wrote an email to the instructor of my massage class saying I couldn’t make it. I felt psychologically tortured for the rest of the day, until I looked at my clock and saw the class had already started. Symptoms ceased! I lay down in bed and read a good book.

And then there are the positive examples: my friend M. invited me this week to see a movie (the night before my massage class).

“I was home alone all weekend because of the stomach virus,” I say to him when I see him. “I was feeling like I needed to come out and talk to people.”

M. gives me a hug.

“Now that I’ve gotten my touch quota,” I say excitedly, “I feel like I can skip my massage class tomorrow!”

It’s like my stomach virus tells me the things I don’t like—massage class, the sad fellow in my gym—as well as those I do like—my friend M., and a final example: the nice woman from finance who works in the same company as me. She stopped by my office yesterday (or more precisely my boss’s office) to do an inventory of the office furniture. After she had counted things we had a nice conversation. I noticed my eyes weren’t twitching, and I felt no temptation to look at the wall. I looked at her face instead, and she reminded me of my one of my favorite teachers.

My stomach virus was telling me I was making a new friend.