Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls is the title of the new book by David Sedaris. It is terrific, of course, as we expect from one of our greatest comic writers. No one makes me laugh out loud more often. Somehow he is able to have perfect timing on a printed page.
To be clear, Sedaris is not religious, certainly not Christian. But his essay, “A Guy Walks Into a Bar Car,” is a brilliant retrospective upon what some might call providence. A young man on a train from Rome, he forms an immediate and vivid bond with a man named Bashir, who is Lebanese. He builds and builds the story until the moment when he is invited to disembark short of his destination by his new friend (potential lover?).
“I don’t remember my excuse,” Sedaris reflects, “But it all came down to cowardice. For what, really, did I have to return to? A job pushing a wheelbarrow on Raleigh construction sites? A dumpy one-bedroom next to the IHOP? Bashir got off with his three big suitcases and became a perennial lump in my throat, one that rises whenever I hear the word ‘Lebanon’ or see its jittery outline on the evening news. Is that where you went back to? I wonder. Do I ever cross your mind? Are you even still alive?”
Gay or straight, most of us are very familiar with the climactic moment, the coming-right-up-to-the-edge feeling . . . only to fail to leap. Sedaris gives voice to the experience of standing agape as opportunity roars past and then frantically looking elsewhere, anywhere, always through the eyes of regret. On another train trip in this essay, Sedaris turns to alcohol and drugs which prove to be poor companions, ultimately unfulfilling. No matter how much he drinks, he can’t swallow the “perennial lump” in his throat.
Yet, in the essay’s conclusion, he mentions a guy he had met a few months earlier under an innocuous pretense. The quick name drop, Hugh, alerts the reader to the connection with the present, as this is his current partner.
As funny as he is, Sedaris reminds us of the somber point that things happen – or don’t happen – for a reason. After finishing the essay, I found myself reflecting on my own travels through life and offering a silent prayer of gratitude.