The patriarch of the Buendía family, José Arcadio Buendía, spent the last days of his life under the chestnut tree in the courtyard of his home. Even when villagers carried his body to his bed as his end became increasingly obviously near, he woke and went back to the tree every morning as “a habit of his body.” Thus Marquez describes it in his classic One Hundred Years of Solitude, which I am re-reading some twenty or twenty-five years after I first read it. The idea of a habit of one’s body stuck with me all these years, and tonight, when I finally read that scene, I smiled. It was one of the passages of the novel I couldn’t recall where exactly it fell but read eagerly in search of it.
Part of the joy of watching children, I think, is that they have no habits of the body yet. They don’t get up at five thirty and make the morning coffee without thinking about it. They don’t come to an intersection intending to turn right but pulling into the left lane out of habit. They don’t have a routine they follow in which they suddenly become aware they’re half-way through the routine. Every action is new. Every action has a certain uncertainty to it that demands their attention and their care. Every act brings forth a joy of the novel.