Let it go
I’m back, after two weeks of a biblical plague called down upon my family and landing directly on me, the proud recipient of four days of myalgias, fever, chills, nausea, and general sick-as-@#$%-ishness. There are only two positives that can possibly come out of such suffering: a) I lost four pounds, and b) I learned what it means to let it go. “It” meaning everything. All planning, all childhood dietary requirements, all dishes and laundry, all deadlines, all ambitions and life-goals, all gone in one long episode of helpless sickness. And it is liberating.
Anyone who has known me for five minutes knows that this idea, this “letting go”, is genetically almost impossible for me. There is always something to accomplish, some game to be won, some imaginary adversary to beat, some point that needs to be proven. But what happens when such a person is caught up in illness or incapacity not of their making? What happens if that person comes up against the passage of time? Two options: that person can strain against the barriers, or they can open up to what is there, what is, what has already been accomplished.
I am not against ambition, lord knows. Ambition, passion, is what drives a young person to pursue their dreams. But eventually those dreams come up against reality, and are tempered. Real life is much different, the young person discovers. When it happened to me, the world became suddenly a darker, more threatening place, no longer friendly and welcoming. Think of a person who has lived a full life who comes up against not just a bad flu, like in my case, but a cancer, a terminal illness, the possibility of the end of all options. We doctors tend to think it should be a given that such a person will be able to come to terms with theses multiple endings, and that we should ourselves. But which of us doesn’t have dreams and ambitions, no matter what our age?
It is a symptom, or disease, of our age: striving for advancement, for justice, for absolution, for a leg up, for a few more years. We lose sight, in our striving, for what we already have, what we have already accomplished. Jihadists dream of vengeance or justice, not seeing that it is their own children who suffer. Students strive to get into the best medical school, missing the opportunities for learning and pleasure along the way. A mother, desperate to get her child into the ivy league, forgets the beautiful fact of the child’s existence. An elderly woman, given a terminal diagnosis, searches for every treatment available to gain more time, forgetting that she is sacrificing the quality of the time she has left. Me, a mother at 45, with a music degree and a medical degree, straining to write and play in the hopes of some further accomplishment, some acknowledgement of value, forgetting that the most important part of motherhood is being present.
I don’t have a clear medical wrap-up for these musings. I do know that doctors, habitual accomplishers, have trouble letting go, and thus we tend to fight the final end of dreams and ambitions long after the end has come. Understand us. Teach us to let it go.