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[Cancer]

[cancer] Updates, lessons and the nature of anger

Slept over nine hours last night, thanks to the Lorazepam tango. Dreams were sort of a PowerPoint format about how to organize my life and life issues in little boxes with connecting lines and flow charts. Sort of metadreams. Was I examining the structure of my undermind, or was I simply working too hard this last week at the Day Jobbe?

Fatigue continues its reign of terror. I become slowly harder of thinking, to the point where I let myself get drawn into one of those no-win Internet tempests yesterday. I won’t bother with any linkage, but suffice to say that a statement on my part that I felt unsafe in a certain situation was met with angry jeering, abuse and obscenity. The self-fulfilling irony of this was apparent only to me, it seems.

To be fair, a few folks engaged directly, one of them kindly and carefully, though another was mostly showing off their rhetorical snark skills. (Yes, a college education is a wonderful thing, I have one, too.) So call it a net loss for me, which I knew before I ever opened my mouth. My one regret was that this fubar took place in the comments section of an innocent bystander. The end score was about 50% nasty cheap shots, 25% smug patronization and 25% actual constructive engagement. Which is actually a pretty good ratio for an Internet comment slugfest.

I know how satisfying it is to have a cause, to pounce on the wicked, the unrighteous and the foolish. I was once young and angry all the time, too. Now I’m middle aged and angry sometimes. But somewhere along the way I decided that justice tempered with peace was a lot more important to me that being completely, absolutely right all the time. (I’ve been down that road. I know people with permanent addresses on that road.)

The cancer experience has only deepened that realization. I can’t count the number of times people have said to me some version of: “Man, this really stupid thing happened — oh, never mind. You have cancer.” It can’t be about cancer all the time. Everybody’s problems are as big as they are. I don’t mean to equate “where’s my next meal coming from” with “where do I invest the next million from my trust fund” — to name theoretical extremes — but if I spent all my time being outraged about my cancer and insisting it was the most important thing there is, there’d be no room left for understanding, compassion, friendship and love. Or listening to what other people have to say, whether I agree with them or not.

At least there’s no debate about cancer, nobody arguing (or pretending that I’m arguing) in favor of it. Issues of social and economic justice, gender and race, family and life are so much more dimensional and complex, and so influenced by the experience and eye of the beholder. But I’m finding more and more that a little compassion and a little peace help me think about this stuff in a much more nuanced way than screaming anger does. And that in turn makes me a lot more patient and accepting of the screaming anger that others direct at me.

Cancer’s an odd teacher, imparting odd lessons. One of which is that life’s too short to be angry all the time. I’d rather communicate. With myself, and with the world.

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