I had to fight against everything: my salvation depended on myself

I didn’t believe I had tuberculosis. I preferred to attribute my first haemorrhage to a different cause. To tell the truth, I didn’t attribute it to anything at all, I avoided having to think about it, did not, in fact, think about it much, and considered myself, if not cured, then at least well on the road to recovery . . . I read the letter, I devoured the books and the pamphlets. Suddenly it became frighteningly obvious to me that I had not been looking after myself as I should. Until then I had been drifting along, trusting in the vaguest hopes. Suddenly I saw my life under attack, vilely assaulted at its very heart. An active enemy was living and breeding inside me. I could hear it, observe it, feel it. I wouldn’t beat it without a fight . . . and I added out loud, as if to convince myself more fully: it’s a matter of willpower.

I placed myself on a war footing.

Dusk was falling. I planned my strategy. For the time being, my studies would concentrate solely on my cure, my only duty was to my health. I would identify as good only those things that were salutary to me, forget, reject anything that did not contribute to my cure. By supper-time I had made resolutions concerning breathing, exercise and diet. [. . . .]

I couldn’t sleep that night, so stimulated was I by the thought of my new-found virtues. I think I had a touch of fever. I had a bottle of mineral water by the bed. I drank a glass, then another; on the third occasion, I drank straight from the bottle, emptying it on one go. I went over my new resolve in my head, as if learning a lesson: I honed my hostility, directed it at all and sundry. I had to fight against everything: my salvation depended on myself.

Finally, I saw the sky lighten; the day dawned.

It had been my vigil before the battle.

The next day was Sunday. I must confess that, prior to that, I had taken no interest in Marceline’s religious beliefs. Whether out of indifference or embarrassment, I had thought that it was none of my business; besides, I didn’t attach any importance to the matter. That day Marceline went to mass. I learned when she came back that she had prayed for me. I looked her in the eye, then, as gently as I could, said:

‘There’s no need to pray for me, Marceline.’

‘Why not?’ she asked, a little troubled.

‘I don’t like special favors.’

‘You would reject God’s help?’

‘I would have to be grateful to him. It creates obligations, and I don’t want any.’

Though we made light of it, neither of us was in any doubt about the seriousness of what we said.

‘You won’t get better on your own, my poor darling,’ she sighed.

‘Then so be it . . .’ Then, noticing her sad expression, I added, less abruptly, ‘You will help me.’

— André Gide, The Immoralist

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