Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"We Interrupt This Program..."

“We Interrupt This Program” means I was going to write something else, but another idea commandeered my brain at gunpoint, and insisted that I writeItalic it instead. That’s how it works. I do what I’m told. By whom? I have no idea.

There’s an op-ed columnist on the L.A. Times (and syndicated elsewhere for all I know) named Meghan Daum. I read her every Thursday. Our thought patterns seem to mesh, and her writing rhythm fits me like comfortable shoes.

It’s interesting how, at least to my ear, some writing goes down smooth and easy, while other writing feels like a rough ride down a bumpy road. It’s how you string together the words. Some’s got it, and some don’t.

Meghan Daum recently wrote a two-parter about a serious illness she suffered, which she thought was the flu but was instead something that almost killed her. The key word there is “almost.” That’s what allowed Meghan to write about it. Without “almost”, it’s “Meghan Daum is no longer available at this location. Or any.”

First Observation: The day before you’re sick – maybe even the minute before you’re sick – you’re not sick. You feel fine. That’s strange, isn’t it? You’re fine – you’re sick.

“Can I go back to ‘fine’?”

“Not till you’re finished being sick.”

It’s a jarring experience. Like being on one train, and suddenly finding yourself on an entirely different and considerably scarier train.

“I’ve got to ticket to ‘Fineland.’”

“Check it again. You’re going to ‘Sickland.’”

So there’s that. The unexpected turn in the road. Usually temporary. Sometimes extended. And of course the one time, where you’re going all the way.

It’s an uncomfortable thought. A thought we forcibly banish from our minds, for fear of falling victim to “the blues”, being the type of person nobody wants to be in the company of.

“That guy is de-pressing.”

There’s a line in the play (and movie) Inherit The Wind where a character, a believer in the literal understanding of the Bible, responds to a question that challenges this core belief by responding,

“I choose not to think about the things I choose not to think about.”

It’s a little circular, perhaps, though understandable, and thoroughly familiar, in contexts other, perhaps, than the protection of the literal understanding of the Bible.

We choose not to think about the things we choose not to think about.

Until you can’t.

Now recovered, Meghan writes about “an ailment that, for now at least, {is} as mysterious as my illness… I won’t presume to coin a term for it, but I can say it occupies a psychological space between disbelief and despondency.” Having been informed about others with the same ailment, whose early treatment had left them without complications, Meghan confides, “I couldn’t help but feel haunted by, and even a little bit angry at, the randomness of the world. Stranger still, there is no rational way of handling that information other than simply not thinking about it.”

Though I squished some quotes together up there, the insight, I believe, remains intact and indisputable. Having visited the world of Scarily Serious Illness myself, I can affirm that Meghan Daum’s description of the “Aftermath Feeling” is precisely on the money.

You have glimpsed behind the curtain. You have experienced

What It Is.

You can try not to think about it.

You may be successful.

Though never as successful as before the thing happened.

Anyone wish I’d written that other story instead?

I think I do.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've often wonder how that happens, too. Today, I'm feeling fine. Tomorrow, a nurse is asking relatives about a DNR.

Having been there/done that, more than once, it doesn't bother me that you chose to write about this subject. It's no longer possible not to think about it.