Dinner with Friends

Sometimes my eyeballs suddenly protrude from their sockets, like this:

This happens when my brain decides it’s time to inflict upon my consciousness an awareness of the unassailable fact of my own inevitable death, as well as that of every other living thing in the universe. It seems to occur at random, usually when I’m alone, but occasionally when we are in the company of friends or acquaintances, at dinner.

When, at these dinners, our guests ask, with concern for my well being, why it is that my eyeballs are suddenly bulging from their sockets, I no longer answer honestly, as some time ago I came to find that the simple, honest explanation—my sudden awareness of the unassailability of universal death—invariably led our guests toward an even more heightened state of alarm, not only for my well-being, but also, now, for their own. Even once, our guests, former acquaintances of my wife from the Sociology Department, invented an excuse to leave the dinner party early, only moments after my having provided them with the honest explanation. And at several other parties, with several other couples, conversation following the honest explanation was rather strained.

What I have come to tell our guests instead, in recent years, is that I suffer from a condition called acute idiopathic exophthalmos, a sudden bulging of the eyeballs, the cause of which is unknown but believed to be benign. My wife and I reassure our guests that my eyes will return to their normal state momentarily, which they always do, once my brain decides to loosen its grip. If our guests exhibit any pronounced discomfort over the sight of me in my exophthalmic state, we simply invite them to look away.

Although lying to people never feels very good, we have found that everyone is better off this way, as it allows us to continue enjoying nice, relatively peaceful dinners with friends, a great pleasure in life, one that neither my wife nor I could ever go without.  

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