Friday, December 23, 2005

December 23, 2005 - How Are You?

Christmas will soon be upon us. Time for some last-minute shopping.

I rummage through the bag of small items I've picked up earlier for Claire's Christmas stocking. Not enough, I say to myself, trying to visualize how many small items it will take to create the obligatory bulging look, that makes for a good stocking. And so I walk down to our seaside town's little main-street shopping district, and go in and out of a few of the shops, in search of a few more stocking-stuffers.

We've got more than our share of gift shops in this resort town, and – like most locals – I don't tend to go into them very often. But this is Christmas.

In one of the shops, the proprietor greets me by name. I recognize her right away. I performed her daughter's wedding several years ago. They're not a church-member family, and I probably haven't seen her more than once or twice since the wedding, but we always give each other a cordial greeting. She fills me in on how her daughter and son-in-law are doing, in far-off Hawaii. She has a two-year-old grandchild now, she tells me. I share her joy.

"And how are you doing?" she asks.

I pause for a moment. How do I answer? It's a question I've had to face nearly every day since my diagnosis, in casual contacts with friends and strangers alike. There was a time when I'd respond to such a question with some easy pleasantry, effortlessly greasing the wheels of social interaction. But now, life is just a bit more complicated.

Do I dump the whole load, telling her I've got cancer, and am facing major changes in my life? Or do I go for the casual, stealth approach: "I'm just fine, the kids are getting bigger, the church is doing well, I've got lymphoma – and isn't it a nice day today?" Or do I avoid the subject altogether?

This time, I opt for the third approach. I tell her I'm doing OK. Not fine, or great, or fabulous – just OK. Because I am. It's the truth, or close enough to it. I'm getting by. There are plenty of worries, but also a goodly number of joys – and I don't have to look too hard to find them, especially two days before Christmas.

I've resolved to be entirely truthful about my medical condition: no secrets. But that's not quite the same thing as "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth." To ladle out a full, steaming portion of truth may be too much for some appetites.

"How are you?" is a question with a multitude of meanings. It all depends on the context. Standing behind a shopping cart in the supermarket.... Sitting in an overstuffed chair a across from a psychotherapist... Perched on the crinkly paper on the edge of a doctor's examining-table... Shaking hands with parishioners at the church door... Sinking back into the bed-pillows beside one's spouse, at the end of a long day. In each context, the question has a different meaning, and a different sort of answer is expected.

Would that we could always answer that question with total honesty and forthrightness! Although I expect that, if we did, it would not be long before we'd plunge to the ground like Icarus, the wax on our wings melted from a too-close encounter with blazing human emotion. Maybe in the coming reign of God, when the lion lies down with the lamb, and every tear will be wiped from every face. But not now. Not yet.

How am I? I'm OK. Because I am.


Anonymous said...

Pastor, your negative bone marrow biopsy report is excellent news, indeed! It is an answer to one of my many prayers for you. I continue to keep you and your family in my daily thoughts and prayers and wish you a blessed Christmas. JP

Barb Carreira said...

I was dx'd with NHL 8/04 (my son was 4 mos old). My last chemo was 12/10/04. Now in remission and feeling great. Got my first haircut last month. The whole experience taught me and my loved ones so much. Most of all, that there's a lot of love around me. God is good and so are his children. I'll be praying for you. Keep the faith and live strong!

Carlos ("Carl") said...


Thanks for the encouraging word. It's good to hear from those who have made it through this process, and who are in remission. I'll bet that was one of the most enjoyable haircuts you've ever had!


Mary Beth said...

Your blog entry touches on a favorite topic of mine and that is the important role that manners play in our complex social system. You peached on this topic not all that long ago. Manners are the rules of conduct that are designed to make everyone feel comfortable and know what to expect. They also "codify" courtesy. The lady in the store may or may not really want to know "how you are". And you may or may not want to share this very personal news with her and anybody else who happens to amble into the store as you are telling the story. You must confront this issues on a daily (hourly?) basis , which in itself must be very stressfull. Thanks for bringing it up.

Carlos ("Carl") said...

Mary Beth,

Thanks for your thoughts. I didn't think about my verbal exchange with the shopkeeper as a question of manners - although of course that's what it was. In that way of looking at it, I suppose I did the right thing - because the full measure of truth was not really what was expected. Human interactions are endlessly fascinating, no?

A Happy New Year to you...