Doing well

People say I'm doing well. They say I sound good. I joke. I don't think it's denial. But do people in denial admit they're in denial? On the phone N said something to the effect that everyone hates hospitals. But I don't. You might find it all interesting, she said. I think that's right. Which brings to mind the Chinese curse, of course.

(May you live in interesting times.)

When my young friend F was diagnosed with cancer and then was in remission and then back in the hospital, I didn't mind visiting. Visiting felt like being in the middle of time standing still. Because you were doing nothing but you were supposed to be doing nothing. But visiting. And trying to give succor. To him, to his parents, who were and are my good friends. And of course frustrating and heart-breaking because there was so much you couldn't do. My friend C went through a hospital volunteer chaplain course and was a "shadow" chaplain following a real chaplain around and then he had his own patients to visit but he was frustrated; he didn't get to know anybody. He'd rather work in hospice. Where you are doing something. You are helping facilitate a journey. We saw The Painted Veil tonight (a toss-up between that and Puccini for Beginners; of course we chose the movie with the dying spouse) and it did seem so comforting for Naomi Watts to be there by her husband's side. Comforting to him. And maybe to her.

I still haven't figured out mortality. We know we're here only for an eyeblink of time but everything is so important to us because the eyeblink is all we have. So it matters what color car and shoes and cauliflower we buy. (I saw cauliflower last week in creamy yellow and pale green, and both were cauliflower, not broccoflower.) It matters that our actions should help others of our species live well (whatever that means) and live well for the entire course of each person's allotted eyeblink, which the ancients put at "three score and ten." It matters that we read the ancients because it makes us feel connected and immortal through chewing on the immortal. Here, chew on this. Learn Greek and Latin and Aramaic and you will taste the past. You will inhabit it and it will inhabit you. The oldness of the idea of the body of Christ in the wafer (not what I mean, I don't mean *inside the wafer,* like the stripper who waits inside the cake before jumping out), the oldness of the belief that the body *is* the wafer, and the wafer, the body--is what gives the wafer its magic.

(Says this Jew.)

Why don't we all learn to read Sumerian and hieroglyphics and Dead Sea Scrolls, why don't we all carve out the aleph-bais on the nearest flagstone? Why do we keep looking forward, ahead, beyond? They might forget us up there in the future. There is no there yet in the future. It's all here, it's all already gone before us.

(Says this non-mother.)

In the beginning was the Word. (Say the Christians.) In the beginning was the Void. (Say we.)
Then light and dark and wet and dry and hot and cold and names. Adam, meaning red, meaning earth. The notion of Adam and Eve naming the animals; what fun! what a delight! To call it a rhinocerous because it looks like one and know that everyone else forever more will call it that.
Adam and Eve opened their eyes and stepped into the future. (But if you're the Original Pair, where else can you step? Can you find a tutor to school you in the ways of the past, meaning the Void? Step back, folks, away from that Void, nothing there, folks, nothing to see. Move along, move along.) Instead of the Void we have a sign that says Void. The word for Void has replaced the Void. The Void has gone missing.

(But it's here. I feel it. And it's in Ecclesiastes: All is vanity.)

Die defending the Torah because others died defending it and others will die defending it. And then you are calm in knowing that the memory of you, the memory of your name and possibly being, will be preserved in the memory of those who study Torah. (I am peeling off my steri-strips from the biopsy, I am writing this on the Sabbath, we drove a car to the movie, we did not pray.)

I meant here to explore the notion of not being so upset about the cancer. Is it because I feel I deserve to die? I have always felt I did not deserve to live, because my lungs are weak, because the tubes and passageways leading into and out of the lungs are weak. Because so much medicine and time and money has gone into opening and re-opening and re-opening those passages and clearing them out and out again. (Albuterol and Azmacort and Prednisone and Pulmicort and Tedral and Brokosol and Singulair and a shot of adrenalin and once an oxygen tent, and a vaporizor for so many years, and a breathing machine twice a day even when traveling from one youth hostel to another, and other remedies too numerous to mention.) Because I am defective, have always been defective, I did not deserve to live. I have always felt that. But I think that I am not so upset now because nothing has happened to me yet. The surgeon doesn't even bring a sharpened pencil to our meetings. A few people poke a few holes in me and push and pull at me but nothing has happened yet. I have not lost a breast, I have not been told that the cancer has escaped past the lymph node guards, or is copying itself as it rides through my bloodstream, I have not been zapped and poisoned. I am whole.