(Steve Goodman reference)
Note: Steve Goodman was a great writer of music. He wrote The City of New Orleans, for example, the song that Arlo Guthrie made famous. Goodman died of cancer. He had leukemia, and knew of it throughout his abbreviated but brilliant career. This is not about him, although, as I think about it, it is, after a fashion.
In my ‘real’ world, the one where I can touch people and squeeze their cheeks and tell them ribald jokes without fear of being banned, where my family and friends pretty much know what to expect of me and somehow deal with it, I do not know a single soul who has ever asked “Why me?”. I really do not.
That is the truth, as far as I can remember. I would like to say it is a family trait, but it is true of my friends as well, and, again, as far as I can remember, co-workers through the years. A friend at work, I saw him after an extended period of time where we were in different offices, and one of his eyes was bulging practically out of the socket. He never asked “Why me?” of me. He died within weeks, but I never heard anything like that from him, and know that he stayed at work as long he could.
My mom, I have noted, had breast cancer back in the butchery days of the mid 1970s. I never heard her ask that question, and she lived a good many years following that surgery and the subsequent treatments. Later, when they discovered ovarian cancer in her, and then metastasis of the breast cancer to her brain, she never asked “Why me?”.
If you read this thing, you know of the measures my wife has taken in my regard over time without ever asking that question.
I could go on and on with stories of people I have known in my physical life, the non-digital one, who never asked that question, despite the problem, despite the diagnosis, despite, even, inevitabilities. As Goodman writes so poignantly, “It happens all the time in real life.”
It is what it is.
I must submit a caveat: when my second child was born, full term, brain dead for some reason and not long for this life, I went home to an empty apartment and shouted that, pretty much, at the top of my lungs. I DO understand it, and would never suggest that people do not have the right to ask or to scream or to shout or to plead, “Why me?”.
Maybe, for me, when that happened, the loss of Amanda, it was like being cauterized. I do not know.
Lately, some folks I talk to have been bringing that up, more and more. I know that some of them, most of them, are sincere, and not just sincere but tough. I know that they are not really asking “Why me?”, but “Why him?” or “Why her?”.
Those people I empathize with. With prolonged illness, especially, prolonged illness destined to end in tragedy, defeat, passage, however you look at it, whether survivor or caregiver, it is easy to see how the question comes up, even among the faithful of one religion or another.
I am, as previously mentioned, an un-knower. An agnostic. I was raised in the Roman Catholic church, however, and know some of the tenets of that religion, and, as a student of religion in general, know a bit about what we expect of our religions, our deities.
They disappoint us. In times of extreme difficulty, and I am not talking cold weather or being able to pay a bill on time, but watching a loved one suffer in the waning days, or dying, oneself perhaps, there is doubt. I was reminded of this tonight.
I know about Job. I know about Abraham (I am, obviously, speaking to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic folk here, but most of you will get the idea).
It doesn’t make it easier for us, those of us who are believers, who become not just frustrated but downright angry at our God when we feel that we have been let down with no logical explanation.
“Why,” a friend asked, “could He just not take him?”.
Now, you will agree, that is a realist talking. That lady is not asking for a miracle, but for mercy. Not just for her, but, mainly, for him.
I do not have the answer to that question. I do not have the answer to the initial question, “Why me?”. I am, as I said, an un-knower in that regard, in many regards.
I said to my friend, not surprisingly to you if you have been a reader here before, “Do not let cancer take more than it must.” Something to that effect. We must fight to keep our lives intact, our relationships intact. We simply cannot let this disease have more than it gets on its own. We cannot contribute to its success, if you will.
But I also said, and this surprises even me, although it really adheres to the statement above: “Do not let it break your faith.”
Sadly, there are others who simply wallow in despair. I know a thing or two about depression (we’re in one aren’t we? :)), and I sometimes suspect, no, I frequently suspect, that this is about a couple of things. The first is attention and the second is joy.
I do not mean to belittle those who are depressed. I do not mean to suggest, even, selfishness, or, as I have wondered from time to time, fakes.
No. I believe that when you are depressed (I am not a doctor, so take all of this with about two pounds of salt) that sometimes you need attention. I personally think this one is a no-brainer. So, people who are depressed, whether with cancer or without, express their discontent, discover that it draws attention, discovers that it draws them away from their loneliness and agony and into a circle of people who care, and they, thus, wallow in it.
Harsh word, that: wallow. Just an observation.
The joy thing is a bit more radical, perhaps, but I really believe that it falls in line a bit with the sentiments in the previous paragraph: there is joy in being pitied and assuaged; there is joy in the concern.
Frankly, the latter is the only reasoning I have for those who would come into a cancer site pretending to have cancer. I have suggested to folks that these people may need more help than we do. And I mean that.
I am only speculating, and I am not a professional. But these are typically the people who ask “Why me?” Not “Why him?”. Not “Why her?”. But “Why me?”.
I really try to be upbeat, or at least sentimental, in this blog. As much as I can. But I have to be honest, when someone asks “Why me?” I am forced to ask, at least silently to myself, “Why NOT you?”, “Why NOT me?”.
(I will tell you, if I have not before: when I was told I had cancer the first time, I DID think “Why me?” for about five seconds. Quickly, however, “Why NOT me?” took over. )
It angers me, and this is why: there is a presumption, as I read it, that this person considers himself or herself special, different, beyond all of the cruelties that beset the rest of us in our lives, if you want to call them cruelties.. I resent that greatly. I try to hide it, but I truly resent it.
I do not blame anyone for being afraid. I do not blame anyone for wondering if they might have done things differently (as little as that will do). I do not blame anyone for considering the impact on loved ones. I do not blame anyone for growing weary, even for losing hope, eventually. I do not blame anyone for deciding that it is time to end the fight. I cannot.
I have experienced some of those feelings and thoughts, and of the ones I have not, I understand that they are personal judgment calls.
But, when I know that friends of mine have been hanging on and fighting tooth and nail literally for YEARS, double-digit YEARS, when I know that friends of mine are laughing and cracking jokes even as they face brain surgery, when I know that friends of mine have been through the mill with surgeries and treatments and STILL say this next trip to the Onco Man is not a big sweat, when I know that friends of mine are dealing with the death or impending death of dearly loved ones … I have problems with “Why me?”
I want to say “Get over yourself.” But I do not, and I will not. (I just did, but that is between you and me). We have our ways of dealing with things, and I know I am being harsh, or at least suspect that others will think I am being harsh.
I will say instead, in the words of a musician and songwriter who lived with leukemia and clearly enjoyed his life until it killed him at a young age: “It happens all the time in real life.”