I read somewhere, years ago, that John Milton was a terror to live with when he went blind. Early in the morning, hours before dawn, he would sit up in bed, screaming "Milk me! ... I must be milked!" No matter the hour, Milton's entourage -- wife, servants, daughters -- scurried in with lamps and candles, bleary-eyed. Milton moaned, practically mooing. "Milk me!"
And so they would -- furiously scribbling down ten new lines of Paradise Regained, or some other such verse that had stormed John Milton's frontal lobe and bottlenecked there, throbbing.
Early this morning, hours before dawn, I stood dumbly in a pitch-dark kitchen, opting against the artificial light. As I stared out toward the back window, the fridge made a half-dozen lunges at the coast, and then was silent again.
Or maybe I mistook the sound. Maybe what I heard were REM cycles, murmurs from the fridge's own deep-set secret dreams. And not only dreams -- aspirations. Dreams of making gourmet ice. Cubing. Crushing. Sculpting.
I've heard that sound that Milton made. For three months, when I was 22, I worked as a dairy farmer in the Swiss Alps, perched thousands of meters up on Alp Inner Urden, ringed with flowers and snow. Every morning I'd wake before dawn, stuff some cheese and salami in my coat, and trudge out to herd forty big-horned cattle that had scattered all over the alp. When I came out too early, they all grumbled like teenagers and scarcely budged from their beds. But when I came too late, half of them had already herded themselves. They moaned with fertile fury at the milking station gate, their kuhglocken clanging.
I turn thirty in 22 days. It's a fact that means little to an ancient Alp, a puttering fridge, a dead genius. But for me, for more than half my life, "thirty" was the precipice I was loath to approach. How else could I see the big Three-Oh but as a personal apocalypse, certain as I was that I would die at 29?
And yet here I stand in spite of myself, seven years after leaving the alp: a cowbell clanging at the edge of an afterlife. I knew these last few weeks would come, but at 22 I never expected this: I'm calm. I'm not afraid. Not of death. Not even of adulthood.
In fact, I'm downright hopeful. This morning, beside the fridge, staring out our dark kitchen window, I saw broad stretches of sorrow and joy. Turning thirty, and forty, and sixty were no longer scarier than death. They're not death. They're afterlife. Gift. Full of milk and honey.
I'm buzzing, and so is the fridge. Someday I'll take it to see the ocean and the Ice Capades.