Monday, January 17, 2011

Let’s all give each other a pass, shall we?

I read David Rakoff's new book of essays "Half Empty" last month. The first essay is about an interview he did with a psychologist who wrote a book called "The Positive Power of Negative Thinking". She doesn't say pessimism is better than optimism, but that they both have their attributes as well as their blind spots, and whichever one you are, half empty, or half full, things will probably turn out the same regardless. I liked that.

The last essay was about his second cancer diagnosis. He had Hodgkin's disease when he was 22, and now in his 40's, he was diagnosed again with cancer and faced with the possibility of of losing his left arm because of a tumor. Fortunately for him he beat the cancer and kept his arm. But there was a long time where he didn't know how things were going to turn out. His account of his friends reactions to his illness is hilarious:

A friend asks if I’ve “picked out” my prosthetic yet, as though I’d have my choice of titanium-plated cyborgiana at my disposal, like some amputee Second Life World of Warcraft character. Another friend, upon hearing my news, utters an unedited, “Oh my God, that’s so depressing!” Over supper, I am asked by another, “So if it goes to the lungs, is it all over?” Regrettably, very possibly, I reply, and when I go on to mention as how they no longer give much radiation for Hodgkin’s he says, “Well, you got twenty-five years out of it,” as if the radiation was a defenseless washing machine I was maligning, and what did I expect, really?

But here is the part I wish I could tattoo on the inside of my eyelids as a reminder for myself:

...But here’s the point I want to make about the stuff people say. Unless someone looks you in the eye and hisses, “You fucking asshole, I can’t wait until you die of this,” people are really trying their best. Just like being happy and sad, you will find yourself on both sides of the equation many times over your lifetime, either saying or hearing the wrong thing. Let’s all give each other a pass, shall we?

Yes let's! Because as much as I get upset when I think someone has said the wrong thing to me, I worry much more about when I think I've said the wrong them to someone else who's suffering. It's all awful and awkward. We're all trying our best. I hope I can always remember that.