Two of my dear friends just flew in for the weekend to visit with my mother and take care of her.
These two women took time off from their jobs; spent their own hard-earned money on cross-country flights; and spent a gorgeous weekend in New York City at Christmastime doing little but cook for her, clean for her, organize paperwork and financial forms for her, and spend time loving and entertaining her in her little apartment in Inwood (one even helped me take her home from the hospital mere hours after she arrived on a red-eye from Los Angeles).
My boyfriend has literally given up his weekends and many of his weeknights to help, doing dishes, cleaning my mother’s bathroom, and cooking for us when he can.
Another close friend answered my emergency call and gave up two of his Tuesdays to take mom to her chemotherapy sessions, driving the mean streets of NYC in thunderous rain to make sure she got to her appointment safely, soundly.
My aunt flew in for a day and helped get my mother to the ER almost singlehandedly. Her daughter, a nurse, offers nearly every day to use her vacation time to fly here to offer an extra, experienced hand to take care of my mother and give me a little extra time off.
Several of my best friends call or text everyday, sending messages full of good thoughts, funny pictures, well wishes, and love. People I’ve only recently begun to know lend patient ears as I regurgitate stories and observances about cancer, or mom’s declining health, or whatever, making me feel listened too and buttressed with genuine concern from a support network I barely knew I had.
Via Facebook and e-mail, friends relate their own experiences with cancer — their own, or someone they know — to let me and mom know that, tragically, we’re not alone. Far from it.
My mother’s friends call and email every other day, desperate to help in whatever way they can. Her boss brings food, flowers, and tips for care and comfort that might never have occurred to me otherwise.
Mom’s pulmnologist, not known for her warm demeanor, called unexpectedly to check in on mom, and revealed her own struggles with a family history of lung cancer and how it touched her.
My editors have sent baskets full of fruit and goodies and found ways to accomodate my now-shattered drawing schedule, and I’ve never been known for being a quick artist anyway (stop laughing in agreement, people from work — who know just what an understatement that is!).
Mom’s doctors have been generous with time, information, and empathy — visiting her multiple times, and even giving her hugs while she lies dehydrated in her hospital bed.
Her doctor’s nurse has been extraordinary in the amount of effort, time, and effort to make sure she’s as comfortable and as pain free as possible, invested in a way I’ve been awed by (you’d think mom had been her patient for two years instead of two months).
Her new home health care nurse, a big personality, and big heart to match, and a real understanding of my mother’s limits and her pain — because all she seems to want is for mom to feel better.
People have come out of the wood work in the past couple of months with words of support, kindness, and empathy. They travel, they cook, they clean. They help with shoulders to cry on and perked ears to listen. They give what they can when they can, in a way that marvels my mother, especially when she feels the most sick, the most exhausted. They attempt to heal, to soothe, and try so very hard to make mom laugh and feel loved.
What has struck me about this experience is how much good we’ve encountered. How many good people we know. And how generous they are with their time, energy, and love. We’re surrounded by them. And, thus stricken, I’m reminded that — depending on time and place — the energy you put out into the world is very often the energy you receive back (at least, when the world works the way it should, although the world definitely seems to have far too many off days).
I believe that, given love, good, kindness, and connection, most people are capable of enormous acts of good, of love, of kindness, and of connection themselves. I believe most people are capable of being amazing, if you give them opportunity and support to be so. I believe that while some people may fail you, many, many people will come through when you need them to, in whatever way they can or know how (and sometimes that requires a bit of patience on your part, ’cause not everyone will come thru in the way you think they should. Doesn’t mean they’re not trying, tho.’).
And I think saying “thank you” and meaning it when someone does you a kindness is not only nice for the person offering their help to hear, but is good for you, too. Acknowledging that magnanimity and honoring it is good for your spirit. It makes you aware of what you’ve received, and what you’re capable of giving and giving back, too.
Sure, some people can suck, and suck hard. I’ve met a few in my day and the thought of what their energies do to the world and the people around them makes my blood boil. But more often than not, it’s my experience that people can be good. Hell, some people can even be fucking spectacular. And going through this experience — and seeing so much love and warmth and goodness visited upon my mother during a really grim, painful, awful time by some really extraordinary people —
— makes me realize just how good my mom is. She’s one of those people. She’s someone who’s made the world better with her love and kindness and warmth. And how how much I want to be like her — how much I’d rather be good, like her…
…like all of these incredible people who have been so good to us, so good to her, and to me…
’cause good people rule.
Have you ever heard the expression, “the sins of the father are visited upon the son?” I’m paraphrasing here, and probably paraphrasing horribly at that, since there are so many iterations of the idea, but I think you know what idiom I’m talking about..
Apparently, depending on the Bible you read, or the way you interpret the Bible, sometimes the sins are:
…and sometimes they aren’t:
Obviously, there’s context and symbolism and metaphor and language limits and all sorts of other things that have to be kept in mind while processing and interpreting those passages. But yesterday, on a particularly long crosstown bus trek to Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center on the east side of Manhattan, I found myself wrestling with that annoying Judeo-Christian guilt-slash-morality that so permates oh, I don’t know, everything…
…and wondering if maybe mom got cancer because of something I did.
It was a quick flash of a thought. Nothing I lingered on for any length of time, but something which I contemplated and volleyed back and forth for a minute or two at least . Could mom’s illness be some sort of punishment aimed at me for past sins? Was she suffering in some way for lies I’ve told her, or friends, or my ex? For undeserved cruelty/snark toward people who couldn’t defends themselves (let alone my most hated frienemies)? For teasing that girl mercilessly ’til she cried when we were in 4th grade, an act I was strangely proud of at nine but one that has grown to haunt me to this day? For unpaid taxes that haven’t gone to fix roads, bridges — and hospitals?
(Actually, I’ve suffered aplenty under various tax burdens, so I’m gonna rule that one out, just because).
But maybe… just maybe… it was for something else?
Absurd, right? But beyond the insane, self-centered narcissism required by that line of thinking (grotesquely transforming mom’s illness and fight against it into something that, at its root, would be rights be all about me), it also defies the simple facts:
My mother has cancer because because many, many people in our family have cancer, suggesting a geneetic disposition toward it. My mother has non-small cell lung cancer because she was a smoker for 45 years (she started smoking when she was back in 1954, when she was just 11 years old, and only quit about 12 years ago), and because non-small lung cancer is caused by mutation of growth-regulating genes by the mutagenic chemicals of cigarette smoke. She has non-small cell lung cancer because the cells in her lungs began to divide rapidly and uncontrollaby, creating tumors, and those tumors are interfering with her ability to breathe (indeed, after invading the bronchi of her lung, the tumor collapsed it.) My mother has various secondary cancers in her skeleton, skin, adrenal glands, lymph nodes, and breasts because non-small cell lung cancer is incredibly aggressive, and infects the body quickly and vigorously if left unfound or unchecked.
For storytellers, and, I’d wager, for those raised in most traditional religious households, those answers are neither very satisfying nor overtly educational in any kind of spiritual way. There’s no great character transformation, no cosmic principle revealed, no grand ethical dilemma tackled while rattling off the scientific facts behind her cancer. They begin to touch on behavior and its ramifications (there’s an obvious correlation between 45 years of smoking and the cancer), but not necessarily “universal truth” that reveals some great lesson about humanity — at least not obviously.
As I understand it, this is one of the biggest issues in the “religion vs. science” debate: depending on what side you fall on, and what’s more important to you: the “facts” of the matter, and then the “truth” of the matter — which may or may not be the same thing, but often provide succinctly different answers (to me, anyway) to life’s biggest question: why?
To be continued.
As I sit here watching my mother rest between sips of broth and earl gray tea (thank god she’s actually eating something; the nausea’s been so bad this weekend she can barely stomach much of anything (which is made even more tragic by the fact that it was just Thanksgiving!)), one of the bajillion things running through my head was the power of super-heroes, and what our world might be like if the Justice League of America, with all their resources, actually existed.
I’ve started a couple of posts about Wonder Woman that I’m fine tuning between mom-feedings and bathings (and actually drawing — the process of which feels absolutely wonderful, even though I don’t have much of a work station at my mom’s place), and I’ll get more into heavy super-hero stuff in a bit. But, as I was sitting next to her, watching my mom struggle against the discomfort of her numerous cancer-induced fevers…
… I was thinking, “wow, Superman’s from an advanced alien race; and he can see molecules; and he can move at the speed of light; and he’s super-fucking intelligent, probably one of the smartest people in the galaxy (yes, even smarter than Batman –!); and he has crazy, unexpected resources (the scientists in the Bottle City of Kandor; the computers in Brainiac’s old labs; even Lex Luthor’s mad genius and inventions); and he’s got that Fortress of Solitude filled with the secrets of the universe (and a big ol’ cosmic zoo); and can fly across the world in 27.3 seconds or something like that; and if were real I bet he’d spend at least some of his down time with Wonder Woman and the Martian Manhunter and Mister Terrific and all of his hero chums to find cures to all the diseases that plague humanity, like cancer.”
And then I started daydreaming. “If Superman were real, and he were really super, he’d fly right up to Inwood with some special device or formula he invented (maybe with the help of the Justice League, or maybe just something he whipped up in his free time) and he’d give it to my mom, and all the other people that needed it, and he’d cure them of their terrible diseases (maybe with one of those cool vision powers he has; like, he’d just cut the cancer out of their body with finely tuned heat vision, or something!). And then all the people he helped cure would be free to give back to the world all the love and goodness and enthusiasm they have, and they could be doing super things too — super good things, for their family, friends, and neighbors; for their husbands or wives or kids or pets, or even for themselves. For science and art and all the things we think define the best of humanity. So they could truly be super, just like the Man of Steel himself.”
And then I got to thinking about how awesome a world would be with a Superman in it, especially if he was the Superman I think he probably would be (those Kents raised him right). ’cause I think that world would be a lot brighter than the one we live in now.
A lot of people in fandom think Superman’s boring because he’s so powerful, but moreso I think because he’s so good. I think people resent heroic characters like Superman and Wonder Woman because they’re incorruptible; because, even if they make mistakes, it’s always in the service of doing good, of being good, of trying to make the world a better place (there are other socio-political reasons people dislike/mistrust Superman, but what I’m talking about right now is his general, in-universe approach to being a hero).
I’ve never thought being “good” was a problem, and I loathe the meme that says “good” is boring and that “sociopath” is kick-ass. I rather dig Superman, at least conceptually, partly because he’s so good. Because he tries so hard to do right by people for no other reason than it’s the right thing to do, the just thing to do (kind of like Nightwing, too). Because being good to people is honorable and noble and worth doing; because it makes the world you live in and they live in better. And I know that if Superman were around, and he wasn’t busy battling the Prankster or Maxima or that evil S.O.B. Doomsday, he’d bring that special device or formula or whathaveyou over to my mom up here at the tippy-top of Manhattan, and he’d make the cancer destroying her body go away, just like a super-villain being locked away in the Phantom Zone. Then he’d probably sit with her for a sec while her strength came back — heck, he might even politely sip a couple of sips of the tea we have brewing (he wouldn’t want to take any away from mom, after all) — before flying off so he could do the same for so many others (and stop Darkseid from taking over the world between visits). And, with so many of us happy and healed, we could help him do all that crime fighting and universe saving and good-deed-doing — if he didn’t mind us being just as super as him.
But I don’t think he would. He’s good that way.