Secret Sickness

My cousin's six year old daughter has a brain tumor. They have operated, and got one out, but the other one, well, harder. And it's a nasty cancer. The future for them holds radiation therapy and uncertainty.

The big surprise for my cousin, though, has been how many people she knows have been touched by brain cancer. One acquaintance came up and gave her a casserole with some words about a friend's daughter touched by this kind of disease.

She's in the family, now, my cousin. It's the family no one wants to join, the one people shy away from, the family of people who have been touched by sickness. And now that she is one of us, she can finally see us, and see how many of us there really are.

If you can't see someone's pain, you just haven't looked deep enough, or so the old saw goes. We are humans, born between piss and shit, and that means we have all been touched by hurt, by sickness, by difference, by tragedy somehow, somewhere.

It's only been a couple of weeks of the patient journal she keeps for her daughter. What I saw was bully-bully, chin-up, sweet pink hope writing. That's started to break now, though. The Sunday party she saw the girls happily not even thinking about illness. In the next entry, when they couldn't sleep that night, when they didn't want the weekend to be over, well, then she remembered the spectre is always there.

That's the problem. Once you have seen the monster we all live with, well, it's hard not to see him. The old normal is gone forever because death and sickness is at your door. In this culture where victims get to tell the court that it's about them and the changes they had to go through because of their losses, even people who weren't direct victims, it seems so easy to say "nothing would ever be normal again."

Problem is that nothing has changed, really. Human life is just as fragile, and change can come in a heartbeat. The only difference, the only real difference, is now we know that. We are one of the family, and all the challenge we wanted to keep plastered over so life would be nice seeps into the crack in our visions.

You can't possibly have compassion for others until you have let your heart break open. Problem is that so many people have broken hearts that they have so duct taped up, wired together, slathered with cement or just wrapped with kevlar to get though the day that having to face a heart broken open is just too hard.

We teach people only to show their broken heart around other broken hearted people, and now others know that my cousin's heart is broken as her dear child faces suffering & uncertainty, they welcome her to the club.

Anger, depression, denial, bargaining, withdrawal, acceptance. It's not just a dance some humans do, it's a dance we all have to do when we engage our own hurt, our own pain, our own sickness and our own seeds of wellness.

Since Hurricane Katrina, Oprah is shocked, shocked I tell you, to discover how much of a gap there is between the haves and the have-nots in this country, shocked at how many poor people suffer just over the hill from nice & comfortable middle class communities. Me, well, I'm not really shocked this stuff wasn't really visible in Oprah's World, the place she invites women into an hour everyday. But now, we have to see the brave and poignant side of poverty, just like we see the brave and poignant side of sickness, touching our hearts without really having to open them.

Oprah calls poverty the shocking secret of America. I think that says more about Ms. Oprah and the America she shapes than about poverty or bad people. The sick or broken is unpleasant, really really.

The real shocking secret is that all of us are messy, dying humans. And when people like my cousin get slapped in the face with that truth, they are amazed how that truth has been there all the time in front of them, they just never really saw it.

Until we can have our heart break open, there is no way it can expand to encompass more of the world. Too bad, then, there is so much commercial pressure to keep the heartbreaking truths hidden.

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