Saturday, April 30, 2011

Question Reality

What is real?  This moment or how I perceive this moment?

Do I feel better?  Do I feel worse?  And what happens if and when I add up all the signs and decide-- Uh-oh, I am not as well as I have been.  Is this the beginning of the long slope to debilitating illness and death?  Maybe I don't have 20 years, after all.  Maybe I am one of those people who only lives two years out from their diagnosis.  Could be.  Ain't no promises.  WHAT THE FUCK!

How does this thought, or this decision, or the acceptance of this reality change my perception of my symptoms?  Does it turn my tiredness into lethargy?  Does everything get colored by my friendly old foe, the mind-habit of depression?

I long for bed and book these days-- even when the sun is (rarely) shining.  I undertake social engagements, and I enjoy them -- but I am always happy if not eager to come home to my sweet dog, my quiet, messy house, and my latest book. (The Master by Colm Toibin, thank you, Janet!)

In this novel about the the largely interior life of the writer Henry James, the protagonist, too, looks forward to getting back to his solitary room.  He is conscious of being set apart-- partially due to his unacknowledged homosexuality, which is in a way a kind of emblem for all the other things about himself he cannot share.  Cancer, too, can stand in for all the things about ourselves we cannot share.

It can be a burden, cancer, for one's self and for others and sometimes I just get tired of being its poster child.

But who says I am its poster child?  Whose reality is that?  Can I no longer have a good day that is not a good-day-with-cancer, or a bad day that is not a bad-day-because-of-cancer?  Does cancer define me?  Is that a choice I make?

Maybe the truth is that it defines me as much or as little as I let it-- just like all the other circumstances of our lives.  I am not talking about denying them, just not letting circumstances define us.  (Didn't our punk-dharma pal Vinny have something to say about that a few posts ago?)

I have an old story I tell about this:

One summer I took care of my grandmother (Mummu) and her sister, my great Aunt Frances.  They were both well past 80-something.  Mummu was the little sister, nicknamed "Little Snowflake" by the young men in the Finnish community who found her a charming skiing companion.  She was maybe 20 when she skedaddled out of the house to marry my grandfather, leaving her older sister, Frances, to return home from her career to care for their aging parents.  Frances ended up staying home, turning away the same suitor year after year until her parents died and she finally married (the same guy!) at age 50-something.

Mummu lived with the man she loved in a beautiful house with a lovely garden-- both very important to her--  for more then 50 years.  They raised two sons who eventually took over the orchard which was prosperous enough to allow my grandparents to travel once they retired.  My Aunt Frances lost her husband in a mysterious logging accident within a few years of their marriage.  She lived alone  for twenty years in an apartment in Portland, where she taught herself to do things in the dark after she discovered she was going blind.

Which sister was had more reason to protest the hand life dealt her?  Which radiated contentment and good humor?  Who perceived the world as an enemy dead-set to rob her of any remaining happiness she may have, and who perceived it as a place where joy was still possible everyday?  I don't have to tell you, do I?

I'll always remember my Aunt Frances asking me to turn her chair toward the picture window with the astounding view -- the one that my grandparents had always sat side-by side with their backs to, facing their TV.

Why? Mummu objected.  (She disliked anyone changing The-Way-Things-Always-Were.  After all, she would remind both Frances and myself-- this was her house!)  She can't even see out that window!

I like to feel the sun on my face, Frances said.  She basked in this small luxury like a grateful cat.

I do not think it ever occurred to my grandmother that she could have shared in this pleasure.   Or that her pleasure might have been augmented by the view she complained was being lost on her sister.  She would have had to turn her chair around.

That possibility did not exist in her world.  Reality or perception?

That's what I keep asking myself:  Reality or Perception?

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