Fritz Zorn

    Mars recounts the author's reminiscences and the self-analysis he undertook after the diagnosis of cancer. The book was accepted for publication just before he died at age 32.

eaving the university brought a general improvement in my condition. The completion of my studies meant a change in status from student to doctor of philosophy and took me, as far as my external circumstances were concerned, into a new sphere of activity. The step from university to professional life made me financially independent of my parents. Now I was earning my own money and could do as I liked with it without having to ask myself whether I was misusing my parents' money for purposes they would disapprove of. I gave up my routine as a weekend commuter and moved into a small apartment in the old part of Zurich. The business of setting up my new apartment fascinated me. I spent a lot of time at it, and the results were most gratifying. I found that my taste in everything differed from my parents' and that I was living now, all at once, in a home that reflected my personal preferences.

I had everything I wanted. I had completed my studies successfully. I had a profession. I had an attractive home. By sheer chance, it turned out that the apartment was located in the most desirable section of Zurich and had untold advantages: romantic surroundings in the Old City, a handsome view of the old roofs, perfect quiet, and a number of other amenities. All this I had simply hit upon without even looking for it. Here I could live a delightful and happy life, and in a certain sense I was quite content in these new surroundings.

My first years in these attractive new quarters brought my previous development to its peak and its fulfillment, a development characterized by constant and simultaneous improvement on the one hand and deterioration on the other. My new mode of life was proof enough of how much better off I was, and at the same time I was doing all I could, more or less unconsiously, to keep myself from seeing how much worse off I was.

The general drift of my life showed more in small details than in any dramatically obvious symptoms. At first it seemed only "nice" and praiseworthy that I prepared all my own meals myself and did my own cooking. Obviously, anyone would prefer to eat in my charming apartment rather than in some "unpleasant" restaurant. But it wasn't just my meals I had at home. I drank my every cup of coffee, my every beer, my every glass of wine at home too. In other words, I never went out. It never occurred to me to have a coffee or a beer in a public restaurant just for the sake of being among other people at mealtime. It was "much nicer" in my apartment. This home, too, had become a shell for me, and I left its protective walls only reluctantly.

I would spend hours sitting at my table after meals (very good and expensive meals, by the way). I was particularly given to this after my evening meal, and I would sit at my table watching the sunset. This habit was a carryover from when I had lived in the old ruin. I watched as the rays of the setting sun fell on a picture hanging on the wall opposite me, slowly playing over it until the sun had sunk below the horizon and the picture was again in shadow. Every time I watched this process, a great sadness overcame me and my heart grew heavy.

There was no reason for this sadness, but it seized me powerfully, regularly, and persistently. These attacks gradually became separated from the sunset ritual that had inspired them at first and they became more frequent and more unmotivated than ever. And as time passed I would more and more often substitute a complaint over my loneliness for the lines of Manrique's lamentation. Here again the words came to me automatically and intuitively, and I usually recited two lines by the Portuguese minnesinger Martin Codax:

    Ai, deus, se sabe ora meu amigo
    como eu senheira estou em Vigo?

    (Oh, God, if only my friend knew
    How lonly I am here in Vigo.)

These lines were no mere empty declamation but expressed, over and over again, the burden of my sadness, pain, and loneliness. I can't say that I thought about making these declamations. They emerged of their own accord. I think sadness itself was speaking through me. I didn't need to do anything at all. I was the passive instrument sadness used to express itself. And that's why there was nothing for me to think about. That I articulated words of grief was something that simply happened to me. My attitude could best be summed up in the irksome and familiar phrase: "That's just the way it is." And indeed that's just the way it was.

And it could happen just as frequently that I found myself at my desk incessantly writing tristeza and soledad all over pieces of paper. I often found, too, that life was just "too much," as the idiom so accurately puts it. The distance was too great; the stairs were too high; the shopping basket was too heavy. Everything contained the hidden possibility of being more than I could cope with. I was tired. There's a theory that claims the body is never tired and couldn't be tired if it wanted to. It's only the spirit that gets tired, and it's the weariness of the spirit that induces the so-called physical fatigue. That may well be a corollary to the view that rainy weather will be depressing only for those who are already depressed. The distance was probably too great for me only because I didn't want to go to the place in question to begin with. The task was too wearisome only because I didn't want to do it. But the reason I didn't want to do anything was probably that there was nothing that gave me pleasure.

§     §     §

t about this same time, a tumor began to form on my neck. It didn't bother me because it didn't hurt and because I didn't suspect it was anything serious. I never thought that it might be cancer, and when I finally had it examined after I realized that it would not disappear but was getting larger all the time, I never imagined that the doctors would come up with any very grave diagnosis. I still had not the faintest idea of my true condition. On the one hand, I was medically ignorant; and on the other, I was clinging to my old habit of not wanting to see how truly serious my situation might be. Although I still did not know that I had cancer, I hit intuitively on the correct diagnosis in regarding the tumor as an accumulation of "swallowed tears." What this phrase suggested to me was that all the tears I had not wept and had not wanted to weep in my lifetime had gathered in my neck and formed this tumor because they had not been able to filfill their true function, which was to be wept. In strictly medical terms, of course, this poetic-sounding diagnosis is beside the point. But, seen in terms of the whole person, it expresses the truth. All the suffering I had swallowed and dammed up could no longer be compressed inside me. The pressure became too great, and the resulting explosion destroyed the body containing all that compressed pain.

Since the word "cancer" had never occupied a place in my consciousness up to now, the name of this disease and the fact that I had it came as something of a shock to me. I use the phrase "something of a shock" intentionally here because it would be incorrect to say that I felt a great or massive shock. I was not dismayed or horrified or suprised or, as we often say in such instances, "thunderstruck." My first words of response to this new fact were: "Of course." It seemed instantly obvious to me that I should have cancer. I saw right off that it was only logical and right. I saw that this was inevitable and that I had even expected it. It wasn't cancer specifically that I had been expecting, but once the diagnosis of cancer was definite, I realized that it corresponded exactly, in form and in essence, to what I had expected. I knew that I had not just happened to fall ill with cancer in this particular winter but that I had been ill for many years and that this cancer was only the last link in a long chain or, if you like, only the tip of the iceberg.

Here, too, I feel my behaviour conformed very well to the rules of society and the rules of cancer. I have been unhappy all my life, but since my good breeding told me it was "not nice" to complain about unhappiness, I never said a word about it. In the world I lived in, tradition demanded that I not create a disturbance or call attention to myself, no matter what the cost to me. I knew that I had to be correct and to conform; above all, I had to be normal. But normality as I understood it meant that I shouldn't tell the truth but should be polite instead. I was a good boy all my life, and that's why I got cancer. That's the way it should be. Anybody who is a good boy all his life deserves to get cancer. It's a just punishment for all that goodness.

I could have continued to be good and nice; I could have decided to pass out of the picture quietly without making any fuss. But I was spared that fate because I came to see that my disease --- this familiar yet unmentionable and therefore devilish cancer that usually kills people in fairly short order --- did indeed contain the possibility of death and resurrection, though the death I might suffer was a real death and not just a symbolic one. The threat of death made me realize that if I did ultimately manage to escape this real death, I might finally have a chance at true resurrection, resurrection to a new life that would perhaps not be as painful as the previous one had been. I mentioned earlier that the confrontation with cancer had caused me only a slight shock because I had been living with psychic cancer all my life. But the shock was great enough to shake me out of my resignation and to make me at least notice that my life was intolerable. If it makes any sense at all to speak of cancer as an idea, then I would have to say that getting cancer was the best idea I ever had.

--- From Mars
Translated from the German
by Robert and Rita Kimber
©1982, Pan Books, Ltd.

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