Of the many events that shaped the life of Laurence Sterne’s literary creation, Tristram Shandy, either directly or indirectly, perhaps none was more important than the moment of his birth, a fact which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone really; if the moment of your birth isn’t arguably the more important moment of your life, then, quite frankly, it’s safe to say that you aren’t, well, and I don’t mean to be disrespectful here, human. You’re some kind of inanimate object that is incapable of living and dying, thinking and dreaming, and loving and hating.
That said, one could also easily argue that the single most significant event in the completely fabricated life of Tristram Shandy, hero of the 18th century comic masterpiece The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, is not the moment that he was born, but in fact the moment that Laurence Sterne, an Anglican clergyman and author, was born. But I digress. We’re discussing Tristram Shandy, protagonist and literary hero.
The tragic scene that forever changed the direction of Tristram’s life took place as such: As Mrs. Shandy lay in her bed, a country doctor fascinated by the advanced medical gadgets of the day, gadgets which in contemporary times we would view with much less wonderment, was called in to assist the mother in the birthing process. However, the doctor, who Mrs. Shandy certainly didn’t want attending her during this most trying time, did more harm than good. While attempting to extract young Tristram, the physician clumsily grabbed the child’s head with a pair of forceps and crushed his tiny little nose, scarring the newborn babe for life. The horror.
On second thought, that moment wasn’t quite so significant after all. In fact, the manner in which young Tristram’s nose came to be misshapen pales in comparison to a tragedy that was later to befall our comic hero, one involving a maid, an open window, and the pressing need to relieve oneself, in this case, the oneself being Tristram. Having been instructed by the maid, who opened the bedroom window but who paid scant attention to whether or not the raised window was fixed in place, the child began to make water onto the grounds below. The window, as a result of the negligence of the maid, suddenly dropped, crashing down on Tristram’s penis, circumcising the boy in a rather surprising matter. The unkindest cut came without warning.
I know exactly how Tristram felt, for it was exactly how I felt when I picked up a copy of The Post and Courier on Tues., June 10, 2008, and discovered the daily paper that I had come to love was but a former sliver of itself. Like Tristram Shandy, The Post and Courier had received a most unkind cut indeed; it is now a few centimeters narrower, the masthead ever so smaller, the paragraphs even less substantial, the stories even more inconsequential. In fact, I’m reminded of the words of Tristram’s maid shortly after the window-sill circumcision, “Nothing is left.”
So in honor of those few centimeters which are gone forever, which have been cut from the paper proper, I will stop this column right now. The blank space below is for them. Rest in peace.