“I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
I used to think there was such a thing as an adult.
At first, the adults were my parents and my teachers. They gave me answers in absolutes; this is the right thing and that is the wrong thing. That made me feel safe, and also freed me from my own opinions. If mine didn’t match theirs, it must be wrong. They were older and smarter and more experienced.
Then I got older and met more adults, and some of them seemed even more expert than my parents and teachers had been. Some were as sure of themselves as my former “adults” had been. It was terribly confusing to learn that the things I’d taken for gospel were, in fact, debatable. Some of these adults were gentle in sharing their wisdom, offering it alongside the wisdom I’d held before, calling it not the choice but a choice. That made me feel unsteady; how could I choose the adultiest adults, the rightest choices, the smartest smart people? If they all disagreed, did that make my original parents and teachers right? wrong? neither? WHO WERE THE REAL ADULTS?
Last month, my daughter texted me from school to ask me if she could buy a panini press.
“Where would you buy a panini press?” I asked her, mentally picturing the route home from school which includes only an indoor play space for toddlers and a gas station.
“At the school store,” she answered. “With my points!”
It turned out that, against all odds, there was a panini press at the school store where students can “buy” things with the points they earn for good behavior. I tried to figure out how it fit in with the erasers and plastic jewelry and school swag and soccer balls, but I gave up. Maybe it was a toy.
“Sure,” I tapped back into my phone.
By the time she came home, I had already forgotten, but there she was, grinning broadly beneath cheeks flushed with the cold, clutching a gift bag that sagged with the weight of a used panini press. She’d spent half of her points for it, and the teacher who’d packed it away had asked her if it was a gift for me.
“I told her no, it’s for me. I love paninis!” my girl told me triumphantly, hoisting it up onto the kitchen counter. Continue Reading…
Clean eating. Boot camp. Paleo diet, no-processed-sugar-January, new year cleanse. Slim down, tone up, burn it off, amp it up!
To all of this, I say: you’re worse for children than pornography.
I spend a lot of time thinking about the danger of asking people — mostly women — to think so hard about their bodies. I think about it every time I see pseudo-food being peddled near in the grocery store — “low carb” bars and no-calorie salad dressings and lettuce proudly labeled “gluten free!” as if lettuce could ever contain gluten. Once, I did my best to listen respectfully while a member of my family described donuts as “absolute poison.”
Around this time of year, the everyday drone of insistence on vilifying foods and hating our bodies gets louder. Every January, the ads on the internet and TV and in magazines and the newspaper start preying on the women who have not managed to set — or follow — new year’s resolutions to love themselves harder, no matter what. I think about it all the time, and fight its imprinting on my brain with my whole heart, but this week, I got involved in a Twitter thread that reminded me — in case I wasn’t anxious enough about how this would all affect ME — that there’s a population even more vulnerable than adult women.
One evening, almost exactly four years ago, I went out to dinner alone with my nine year old daughter, Sammi. Her older sister had religious school from 6pm to 8pm, and sometimes, I couldn’t bear to drive home, cook something, try to get Sammi to eat quickly, and then scoot back out the door again. The local Thai restaurant was easier, and besides, just a month earlier, I’d been left awestruck when Sammi ate an entire plate of pad woon sen in that very booth.
Even once the cause had been discovered and her aorta gently moved to the side and sewed to her sternum, eating was still slow and frustrating for her and us. We’d sent her to feeding therapy, a white flag waved at the eight years of labored eating that had conditioned her to chew slowly, fill her belly with water, and avoid the kind of dense food that would help her grow. Over the entire summer, once-per-week therapy over her lunchtime seemed to do little to help her regain the ground she’d lost. I waited for the growth spurt that didn’t come.
Then, one November day at the thai restaurant down the street, I mentally planned for her leftovers to go in her lunch the next day (and the next, and the next), only to look across at the plate of mild glass noodles and vegetables to see it slowly emptying. By the end of the evening, I was so excited that I took a photo of her empty plate and texted to my husband, my mother-in-law, my parents, and several friends. Continue Reading…
More has been written about Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortalthan on most other books on medicine and health, combined. It was reviewed in the New York Times, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, and dozens of other newspapers, magazines, and other publications large and small. Its study of how the medical profession handles the process of dying — whether that process comes at the end of a full life or far too soon — has changed the national narrative. Doctors are coming around to the idea of supporting patients on their own terms as the end draws near, a concept which, to many, seems antithetical to their oaths. After all, are they not charged to “do no harm?” Gawande’s Being Mortal forces the discussion and redefinition of “harm.”
In an early chapter of the book, he writes that there are two kinds of courage. “The first,” he says, “is the courage to confront the reality of mortality—the courage to seek out the truth of what is to be feared and what is to be hoped when one is seriously ill. Such courage is difficult enough, but even more daunting is the second kind of courage—the courage to act on the truth we find.” As he shares the stories of his own patients — choosing between risky surgery and an uncomplicated but speedier end; finding ways to maintain autonomy as they age; managing varying levels of discomfort while remaining lucid and cogent — it is clear that all the scenarios where his courage to “act on the truth we find” are predicated on the first courage to “seek out the truth of what is to be feared.”
In other words, there can be no action toward healing without first determining how his patients define healing. Continue Reading…