The Mothers

The Mothers have come and gone, and the sun is shining brightly on this warm, breezy day. The mothers are mine and L's; last year he came up with the idea of having both of them here for Mother's Day weekend. They'd only met once before, and yesterday and today they said they liked one another, and we believe them. My mother is an elegant Southern lady; L's is an earthy Midwestern enthisiast. I claim that she's an Animist, believing that inanimate objects are sentient beings, but L says I exaggerate. She says of many things, such as sweaters, scarves and baby blankets: That is a friend. That was a friend. L had a receiving blanket called Cover. She has a lovely little picture of him holding it. He also had a Teddy, whom he allegedly buried and who was never found, but was replaced. L does not remember what happened to Teddy. He may have decomposed by now.

I had to nap Saturday and Sunday afternoons so L took the ladies to the Niki in the Garden exhibit at Garfield Park Conservatory (below), to see Magdalena Abakanowicz's giant headless sculptures at Roosevelt and Michigan, and on a wildflower walk at the Heron Rookery in Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. As I said, I slept a deep chemo-sleep. I'm finding that I'm zonked out for more days after each chemo treatment, as predicted.

My friend M was in town for a bar mitzvah, and she came here Saturday afternoon and night. She looks more like my mother than I do, and is more ladylike than I am. An observer would probably think they were related. V (the local V) and her husband J dropped by. He had returned from the markets of Dakar, Senegal, with a scarf for me. It is large and red and black, anarchist colors, he pointed out, and he was apologetic that it was too large for my head. But I had taken informal head-wrapping lessons in an African import store in Hyde Park last month, and I knew how to twist and tuck. So I spent most of Saturday evening wearing a large turban. I felt like I should be singing, "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair." But L said it looked good.

The Tanzanian kanga cloth I bought in Hyde Park has bright blue, yellow and black markings and a proverb in Swahili that says God is good or wise or something like that. I also bought a soft blue hat in the store. I still had my Mohawk then. I told the store owner that I was going to lose all my hair. She asked why and I said I had breast cancer and was going through chemo. Oh chemo is not good, she said. Chemo is poison. When she realized I was determined to continue my treatments, she asked me for my name so she could pray for me.

A number of people are praying for me. As the archetypal Jewish mother says, It couldn't hoit. (This is the context in which I've heard that line: The son proudly treats his immigrant mother to a Broadway show. In the last act, the hero crumples to his death. The mother stands up and yells, Give him chicken soup! The audience tries to shush her and explain it's just a play. She in turn shushes them and yells, ever determined: It couldn't hoit! I think this is mildly funny.) I do not believe in any of those studies that show a relationship between others praying for you and healing. The studies seem flawed. If you yourself are praying, that's another matter, one that has to do with repetition and tradition and comfort and belief. Even being part of a placebo group can make you feel better, because you believe, as Jerome Groopman has pointed out; you have hope. Placebo: I shall please.

L doesn't know this, but I started reciting the Shema to myself at bedtime several years ago. I'd quit at some point after my childhood. I know that God doesn't exist, but I know the prayer exists and has existed for a long, long time. I suppose I'm an animist for believing that the prayer itself has a soul.

3 comments:

Garry Cooper said...

yep, you're right: that nonsense that it helps when others pray for you even when you don't know about it has been thoroughly disproven. The studies were flawed and no one's been able to replicate the results. Though I'm sure some pseudo-researcher with a religious agenda will do another flawed study, find that intercessionary prayer does work, and the media will pick up the story once again. People have a right to be as superstitious as they wish in the privacy of their own homes. But these people insist on trying to terrify people into sharing their own fear-based beliefs and they keep trying to shove their beliefs down everyone else's throats.

I'm in a bad mood tonight. My Chinese acupuncturist refuses to guarantee that I will never have cancer again. What the hell am I paying him good money for if he can't tell me what I want to hear?

barbara said...

My brother, who has had prostate cancer for ten years, but is now undergoing radiation of his brain for tumors secondary to lung cancer, calls himself a Darwinian atheist. He doesn't believe in an afterlife, but to comfort the believers in his life, is willing to entertain the idea of going to heaven and of seeing his son, his dog, and his mother again. He is leaving us, atheist or not, with incredible grace.

chapman said...

Luis Bunuel's remark, "Thank God I'm still an atheist." pretty much sums up my ambiguity re the cosmic paternalist.
Hey, I heard you over the wireless the other day. You really have a beautiful radio voice!