Monday, January 12, 2009

What to say

I am thinking things I cannot post regarding old friends.

The gist of it is this:

I have a brain tumor. Yes, it is benign. THANK GOD!!!!!!!!! (Thank You, God!!!!!!!) Nevertheless it threatens my vision, my functioning, my life. I try to put on a brave face, but in my darkest moments I am scared shitless. When I share this information, which I do SPARINGLY and only after much thought, I am hoping for some acknowledgement of the gravity of this (to most people, myself included) horrifying diagnosis.

Failure to acknowledge this gravity is painful to me.

But I also understand that most people will be so flummoxed on being told that they honestly won't know how to respond, and as a result, may come up with words that are well-meaning but end up being the opposite of helpful, just because they lack practice at this sort of thing.

And honestly, I don't really know what to tell them either.

But I will offer some canned responses that would actually be soothing to me to hear:

"Oh my God, how horrible!" You'll probably be thinking this, but would be mortified to actually hear yourself saying it. Go ahead and say it. I'd be gratified by your outburst. I thought the exact same thing when I was first diagnosed. To hear you saying it would let me know that you felt the same as me, and that's actually rather comforting.

"Oh, no, I'm so sorry to hear that." Expresses simple human sympathy. You don't need to be eloquent. This is plenty.

"How are you doing?" Same as above, but more so. I don't care if you mean it or not. I don't care if you are sincere or not. These simple four words say "Hey, I see you're going through something big, and I acknowledge that." I can of course only speak for myself, but personally, to hear these four words is really all I want. I am going through something BIG. No, it's not malignant (THANK GOD!) No, I haven't had surgery (... yet? ... ). But it is still BIG and SCARY. All you have to do is acknowledge that, and I'll feel that I've been heard and understood. I think deep down, that's the bedrock minimum of what we really need from each other. Hey, I'm tough and independant. The minimum is plenty for me.

Now that I've told *you* what to do, I hope that *I* will always remember this advice myself, as well.

Because we are all mortal, fragile, subject to innumerable disorders, aging, and death. At some point or other, you, and everyone you know, will experience this first-hand. In the beautiful words of the Flaming Lips:

Do You Realize
that everyone you know
Someday will die
And instead of saying all of your goodbyes
let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It's hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn't go down
It's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round

In parting, I'd like to point the 3 people on the planet with Internet access who haven't seen it yet to a series of videos that I, even after more viewings than I can count, still find endlessly hopeful and inspiring:


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