Thursday, April 24, 2008

Authentic yet bathetic

Dang, that last one was maudlin. Did it sound that way, or just feel that way, I wonder?

I was embarrassed and moved to delete it, but changed my mind on the confirm screen, because it was a real emotion (and because Sachin left a comment -- hello!), albeit an emotion that isn't generally part of the Culturally Approved Good Attitude Kit™ for people with cancer. The truth is, the kids are the absolute worst part of this; or rather, the worst part is thinking about me gone from them, them gone from me, me not knowing at some point what comes next in their stories. Torture.

But this is also true: They provide so much pleasure and inspiration to live each day. They distract me, delight me, get me off my butt. We dream together. They blast through my reveries with their dirt clods and chess games and princess parties and cone jet full. They make me want to leave some kind of legacy for them, even if it's just faint memories, stories, letters, made-up words and silly voices.

I have known several kind, successful, mostly happy people who lost parents in childhood. My mother for one. Even though I can't imagine my life without my close relationship with my own parents, my kids will be OK if they lose me, but there's no question that they are suffering now and will suffer more in the future.

So I get maudlin, yes I do. I quote Marjorie Williams below on the strange feeling of inauthenticity an illness like this brings, she calls it feeling like an actor in a melodrama. I have the same queasy sensation of unreality (and all-too-much reality), a weird sense I'm playing a part in a particularly amateurish school play. I don't know the lines, just the contours of the plot, and yet I'm up on stage anyway. My consciousness is split between the part of me playing the sick guy role and the part of me that still feels well and is watching the whole fiasco with disbelief. 

On bad days, sappy sentimentality feels like the most authentic emotion I have; it's the thing that the sick guy actor and the rest of me can agree on. I try to have a nice wallow, then haul myself out with a joke or some work or some reading. If I can't break the reverie, the kids or L. usually can. Bless them.

Not to mention that L. makes one hell of a pancake.

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