The Zen of being screwed

I was talking to my dying friend today. Once again, she said she wants information about exactly how she’s going to go, and her doctors won’t tell her. “Didn’t you get that stuff I emailed you?” I said. But then I remembered she has trouble reading now.

So I said as soon as I get back from Netroots Nation, I’ll bring her some printouts and read them to her. “It’s not pretty,” I said, hesitant.

“I know,” she said. “I just want to know.”

It’ll be a lot better when you’re in hospice, I tell her. They don’t pretend, they answer questions.

“I have this headache that won’t go away, it hurts all the time now.”

“Well, you know: brain tumor,” I said, and we both cracked up.

She speaks so slowly and carefully now, like a stroke victim. When I call her house and get the answering machine, it’s a shock to hear the old outgoing message; she sounds so different.

The nice thing about realizing you’re fucked, we both agreed, is how it frees you up to enjoy the rest of your life. You know? These bastards have fucked up the air, the water, the food and the economy. Our children are screwed, and our children’s children.

Which realization, for some reason, really quiets the monkey chatter in my head. It frees you up so that you can sit and look at a flower, or a sunset. It’s a lot easier to live in the moment, at least some of the time.

My shrink seems happy about this development, since he says my chronic anxiety is from trying to figure out every possible way to avoid a negative outcome. But it’s not for him, it’s for me. Once I had that realization, it’s all been okay since then.

It’s not as if I’m not angry or sad about what these amoral morons have done to our planet; it’s that I’ve acknowledged I have no control whatsoever. I mean, I’m pretty sure my friend (who’s younger than I am) didn’t expect to have a brain tumor, right?

It’s the illusion of control that takes up so much space in our brains. Every time something bad happens, the first thing people want to do is to blame the person it happened to. (Lung cancer? “He smokes, right?”)

It’s pointless. Go look at the sunset, pick a flower. In the vast and infinite expanse of the universe, we’re a speck of dust. Don’t stop trying to make things better, but don’t get so fixated on the outcome that you miss the sunsets.

5 thoughts on “The Zen of being screwed

  1. True. Let it go. The outcome isn’t as important as you think. Only the effort is worth anything. Whatever you do don’t read any SF novels about dystopian futures like McCarthy’s The Road, or Attwood’s The Year of the Flood. It will all look just too damn familiar as though you, and everyone you love, is being pulled toward a future that looks all too much like a black hole. Global warming? Hell, that’s just the icing on the cake.

  2. She should press the doctors to make the commitment to send her to hospice. Most of them want to hang on and continue treatments, I won’t say because of their egos, but because they have a hard time “giving up” on the idea their treatments will do something dramatic. When I was involved as a volunteer staff member of a hospice we had more than one patient who didn’t even make it home, because everyone waited so long. On the other hand we has some who even got better once they were home, out of pain and relieved of all that anxiety that comes with treatments and hospitalizations. Point out to her that you don’t have to sign a contract to die in 6 months in order to be admitted to hospice; the doctor just has to be willing to make an estimate that there are only 6 months left.

  3. She’s still functional, still gardening and getting around. The only real problem she has right now, besides fatigue, is occasional seizures. I think she’ll know when it’s time.

  4. I love your line “It’s the illusion of control that takes up so much space in our brains.” I tend to be somewhat of a control freak, but more and more I’m saying “I’m only able to neaten up my little corner of the world, so I intend to leave my surroundings better than I found them to the extent possible and stop worrying about stuff I can’t affect.”

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