Friday, July 23, 2010

survivors guide to living

just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone
suzanne the plans they made put an end to you
i walked out this morning and i wrote down this song
i just can't remember who to send it to

oh, i've seen fire and i've seen rain
i've seen sunny days that i thought would never end
i've seen lonely times when i could not find a friend
but i always thought that i'd see you again

won't you look down upon me jesus
you've gotta help me make a stand
you've just got to see me through another day
my body's aching and my time is at hand
and i won't make it any other way

* * * * *
in "deep survival" laurence gonzales writes there are two kinds of people. survivors and victims.

survivors, he says, are rule breakers. they are independent in mind and spirit. in a tough situation, they do better than people who follow the rules and stick to the plan, no matter how badly the plan has gone awry.

"when a patient is told that he has six months to live, he has two choices: to accept the news and die, or to rebel and live. people who survive cancer in the face of such a diagnosis are notorious. the medical staff observes that they are 'bad patients,' unruly, troublesome. they don't follow directions. they question everything. they're annoying. they're survivors.

"the tao te ching says, 'the rigid person is a disciple of death...the soft, supple, and delicate are lovers of life.' "

boys, quite often, don't fit that last description. not on the outside, anyway.
the boy at our house is soft-hearted and emotionally susceptible, but he wants
the world to believe he's wizened and grizzled and hard-shelled.

we're willing to play along, sometimes. to that end, we recently sent him to a
week-long ymca b.o.l.d. (boys outdoor leadership development) camp in the north cascades.

the idea is to cultivate confidence through the development of wilderness survival skills, some of which might be applicable elsewhere in life. or to just hike around and do some fishing outside the city. whichever.

the boy came back complaining bitterly about a week of privation and forced marches and giant mosquitos and an epic failure, fish-catching-wise. and yet on his return, he was inexplicably exhuberant, as if he'd passed a great test of pre-adolescenthood.

there's no telling what of any long-term value he may have internalized, but maybe he picked up one insight that'll help turn him into a survivor.

maybe somewhere down the road he'll stop and think, "you know, when i went in the lake with my boots on, my feet got wet and stayed that way for two days. that experience taught me that it may not be a good idea to pee on this electric fence, or to pet this pit bull, or to get in this car with my drunk friend."

all we can do is put him in position to learn, and hope for the best.

* * * * *

my friend kary was a survivor. life handed her a raw deal several months ago, but instead of accepting the bad news, she stood and fought.

she endured chemo and bone marrow biopsies and seizures. she ignored an indifferent doctor who told her she had a week to live, and lived on. she kicked a dangerous lung infection so she could undergo a bone marrow transplant, which was cause for much hope.

but acute myelogenous leukemia is a bitch of a disease, and eventually it fought kary to a draw. life's rulebook tells us that in case of a tie, death wins. but kary never gave up, never let the specter change who she was. she showed us what it means to be a survivor instead of a victim.

since no one gets out alive, that's about the best example any of us can set.


Fish and Bicycles said...

Wow, space, that hit home in several ways.

How old's your boy now? Mine's 12-going-on-13 and he's going through tremendous trials on the road to manhood, just as you and I did. It's hard to watch him struggle, and the song "Still Fighting It" by Ben Folds is constantly in my head these days:

Everybody knows
It hurts to grow up
And everybody does
It's so weird to be back here
Let me tell you what
The years go on and
We're still fighting it, we're still fighting it
And you're so much like me
I'm sorry
Good morning, son
In twenty years from now
Maybe we'll both sit down and have a few beers
And I can tell you 'bout today
And how I picked you up and everything changed
It was pain
Sunny days and rain
I knew you'd feel the same things

I have to say that my initial reaction to Darwinism like Gonzales' is always one of outright rejection, a stubborn insistence that humans have the capacity to transcend a survival of the fittest paradigm. And yet, I'm able to admit that my denial could very well be worst enemy.

About 10 years ago a tiny, seemingly harmless lump was found on my left upper arm. A biopsy revealed that it was a malignant, very rare, deep tissue skin cancer. No, this form of cancer is not lethal, but, untreated, it could eventually lead to muscle damage, and in even rarer cases it can metastasize.

After I was told that the only possible treatment would be the surgical removal of the tumor, along with a sizable chunk of my arm, I chose to consult a naturopathic doctor and then followed a course of treatment, decisions that my primary care provider chided me for. He tried to scare me into having the surgery.

Long story brought to a merciful conclusion, I'm convinced that the naturopathic treatment that I had worked, in that it drew the tumor to the surface, away from the deeper tissue, and so, when I finally did undergo microsurgery I did not lose nearly as much tissue as I would have if I'd rushed into the first prescribed procedure.

To this day, I don't think of myself as a cancer survivor, since my life was never in danger. Still, the story of your friend resonated, and there certainly is something about your post that rings true, despite my knee-jerk reaction.

spaceneedl said...

howard, have you read "deep survival"? it's not a darwinist perspective at all. gonzales goes to great lengths to describe the traits common to survivors, and says often it's "the rambo types" who are the first to go.

in fact, you demonstrated many of those traits in your response to your own cancer.

give the book a look-see, i think you'd like it.

p.s. our boy is 12, as well.