Saturday, August 25, 2012

Day 70 - suffering and the happy return

I wanted to talk today about suffering and its role in my leukemia. I feel I have not really suffered much from it in any reasonable sense of suffering. There have certainly been uncomfortable times and times I was not happy or nauseous or fatigued. I have had almost no pain. I have been really overwhelmed to the point of thinking I should just stop chemo three times, but never for more than a few hours at a time. Some of these events have risen to the level of suffering, but mostly not particularly. I have not really felt that I suffered much more since being diagnosed and treated for  leukemia than I suffered before in my regular day to day life.

That makes it sound as though my day to day life (my pre-leukemia life and the part of my life now that is unrelated to leukemia) is pretty bad, but, in fact, I do not think I suffer particularly more or less than anyone else in my day to day life and I do not think I have really been suffering more than your average, middle class, American woman either before or after getting the diagnosis.

Part of me is very very happy about this because I don't really like to suffer and part of me is very very worried about it.

The two organized ways of making sense of the world that I know the best have a very different ideas of the role of suffering. Catholicism (at least the kind I was raised in) has this idea of "offering it up." The way "offering it up" works is that you offer your suffering up for a particular cause (when I was a kid, my favorite one was starving kids in Africa) and it helps you because then it immediately becomes meaningful suffering and it helps them because somehow it lessens their suffering. I am not sure how the calculus on suffering offered up works and never really heard an explanation of it at all. Perhaps it is a kind of turbo-charged prayer. That there is a way that one person's suffering could make another's less conflicts with this other idea that whatever is happening to you now is really part of a bigger plan that humans (i.e., the sufferer) just can't understand and whatever suffering you are having now is meant for you now and there is some better outcome down the road that wouldn't have been possible without the suffering you are undergoing now. There is finally a third view of suffering that may be idiosyncratic to my upbringing (I was taught it with the same authority as everything else, but now that I write it down, I'm not sure I've heard other people raised as Catholics talk about this). It clearly does not even make sense and yet, it's there. This view is that if you do not suffer for something, you don't really deserve it. You can see where this would get me into big trouble: many people (most people?) really suffer at times from their cancer treatment and I am not suffering much. Does this mean that I don't deserve my remission? If I don't deserve it, will it not last? I can recognize intellectually that thought as absolute rot, but like the other dysfunctional things one learns early in life, it is very hard to root out.

Contrasted with this is a little bit of Buddhism (suffering exists, suffering has a root cause,  there is a way to stop suffering, that way is the eight fold path). Suffering is seen without value; it exists. Organizing one's life to avoid suffering is seen as not only acceptable, but desirable--wise and skillful. This view of suffering is so opposed to the previous paragraph's that I cannot understand how I can put them both on a page together to say nothing of holding them both in my head. Clearly there is some difference in exactly what is meant by "suffering" as the Catholic suffering might include all five pokes of getting a PICC and the Buddhist might not, whereas I don't know if the Catholic would include the way I felt when I thought maybe it was time to stop doing chemo and the Buddhist would definitely include that as suffering.

Or perhaps my understanding of suffering in Catholicism is immature because I found it so uncongenial that I haven't updated it in years. Or maybe my understanding of suffering in Buddhism is immature because I don't know much. Or perhaps both. Or perhaps I am suffering enough from not suffering enough that that is enough suffering to earn my remission.

Changing to a happier subject, we got Ellie today from PaPa camp, a performing arts camp that is run by the Seacoast Repertory Theatre. She loved it and wants to go back next year. We watched her talent show, met her counselors, etc and had a good time. It is so nice to have both girls back home at once. Tommie and her dog are both here, too, so we are all under one roof tonight.

I hope you are able to gather those you love together soon, too.

No comments:

Post a Comment