Friday, November 29, 2013


I went to visit a woman I know in the hospital this morning. She had surgery for cancer, which she has been battling for six years.  This sounds like it was a difficult operation, as they had to separate her windpipe from her lung.  She's been cancer-free in those six years, but about a month ago a tumor showed up on her brain, which they got rid of with gamma rays, and now this one.  She was still a little out of it from the pain medication, and at one point said "we're worthy, we'll all be worthy" as she was drifting in and out. I have faith she'll make it, but this fight has been difficult it seems.

Another man I knew, a friend though not in my close circle, was murdered last week.  A lot of people I know are trying to make sense of it, but I don't know what sense there is to make. Senseless crimes by their nature don't make sense.  It's a horrible crime, and it's knocked all of us off-balance, some more than others.

I'm not inured to either of these incidents. There has been a lot of death lately, from the woman I know who died of cancer last month, to the husband of a work colleague who was shot at LAX last week. I cannot make any sense of it.  I've never been able to.

For better or worse, I've certainly been acquainted with loss, and premature loss.  Sometimes a surfeit of those losses makes you look around the corner in fear of what comes next. I've certainly spent nights just worrying that people I love would be killed, or I would be, or unexpectedly die.  I've learned that a constant cognizance of my mortality serves to freeze me rather than free me.

On the other hand, if I'm present, and let the emotions that happen come and go as they need, I come away with a kind of hard-won gratitude.  Instead of mourning eventual, inevitable loss, I begin to look around at what I'm thankful for. I have much to be thankful for.  I'm not sure what I'm thankful to, but I know I am thankful for.  When I'm in that place, I actually have a chance to forget that terrifying, unexplainable things happen all the time. I can start to see that wondrous, unexplainable things happen as well.

I was talking with a friend about hospital germs as we walked into the hospital. I was telling him about the microbiome about which we're discovering more and more. We have billions of organisms in us and around us that possibly effect everything from our thoughts, our weight, to our susceptibility to illness and moods.  We are each a universe, an undiscovered, uncharted universe, quite literally. We are just beginning to see what we're made of, and how much we don't know.

When I look around at grief, sadness, and senselessness everywhere, I know I can't expect to have it explained or hope to avoid it, anymore than I can hope to avoid my own mortality.  I can, though, walk around in my universe with a sense of wonder that we're here at all, and be thankful that I get to meet others along the way, with all our struggles, for a long or short time.  For that, I'm thankful.


Elizabeth said...

This is my favorite Thanksgiving post I've read in the last few days, primarily because it's beautiful and also because it's honest and so far from the usual treacly gratitude stuff one reads over and over. I'm sorry for your recent losses -- it does seem that getting older makes the world so much more precarious, no?

Criticlasm said...

Thank you. I'm glad. And yes, I think experience makes it more precarious. I work on not being in the fear of it, and also not feeling numb. Somehow, knowing just how much I don't know helps. A friend says, "I'm just another bozo on the bus." Wise words.