“Words are loaded now.”

I’m currently reading Kelly Corrigan’s The Middle Place, a book that, awhile back, Firemom recommended. Quite awhile back, in fact — January 9, 2008, to be specific. Way before I would have been ready to read this type of book. Now I’m ready, and reading. I’m not finished, but there’s a passage that struck me so much that I had to blog about it.

In this passage, Kelly Corrigan and her husband are talking with friends who are athletic, those friends comparing how far they’ve come with running from the past year to the year they’re in, all while Kelly is thinking about how her body has betrayed her with her cancer and feeling uncomfortable between the difference between their confidence and her vulnerability. She voices these feelings to her friends, ending with:

“I’m sorry, you guys — but it’s just incredible to hear all your optimism, your conviction that you can make your body do all these things. I mean, do you think you can make your body safe? Do you think you can make your body heal?” . . . . “I actually sort of resent my body — Oh God, I’m sorry. Talk about a buzz kill.” . . . .

I feel different from everyone these days. Words are loaded now — people who were so sick they wanted to die, who ate so much they wanted to puke, who hope someone will take them out back and shoot them before they get old and infirm.

Wow. I’ve felt these exact things during conversations with others, with Healthy People. I’ve been a Buzz Kill too, in conversations. I swear, I feel like I can’t help myself, like I’m some sort of Reality Check for those who seem to take life so for granted that they want to wish it away. I don’t always react that way, but sometimes I do. Judy, the Buzz Kill. Maybe that’s just what happens when you have a cancer like mine, or Kelly Corrigan’s.

We are a society obsessed with youth and ignoring of old age and death. “Don’t get old,” my mother used to tell me. She doesn’t tell me that anymore, not since I told her that getting old was a great privilege. Even the incredibly wonderful and sensitive radiation tech said at one point, “I’m getting too old for this.” Thinking that he can’t be that old, I asked him how old he is. He’s 50 years old.

“You’re not that old,” I said. “I’m only three years younger than you.” Then I added softly, “After everything I’ve been through, I think growing old is a great privilege.”

“You are absolutely right,” he said, “You’re absolutely right.”

Just a short time later, when radiation was over, we talked a bit about how older people are viewed in different cultures, and how in this culture they’re especially looked down on, some of them completely forgotten. It’s sad, really.

I have a friend who’s younger than I am, a very beautiful friend who has, since she was in her early 40’s, gotten Botox injections. Now, it’s not for me to say what other people should or shouldn’t do, but to me, it’s a symptom of how much our society values youth and youthful looks. This same friend will ask at birthdays or even at other times, “How did I get so old? How did we get so old?,” never mind that I don’t necessarily think of myself as all that OLD yet. “How?,” I’ll answer. “Simple. We haven’t died yet.” “I don’t want to get OLD!,” she may respond. Here comes Judy the Buzz Kill: “Oh, I do. It’s my greatest wish.” They’ll all understand what I mean and yeah, I can stop a conversation in its tracks these days.

Or, worse yet, I get the response, “But I thought things were going well,” meaning that if things are going well, I shouldn’t be thinking about such m.o.r.b.i.d. things like death now, should I? Is death really all that morbid, after all? Or is it just a part and parcel of life, something that perhaps we would all do better to be able to talk about in some fashion?

*sigh*, as Corrigan said, I feel very different from everyone these days. It makes for a sometimes lonely existence, but a very honest and authentic existence at any rate.

I do notice words so much more these days, though. Those words that are “just” phrases, things that “don’t mean anything,” really. Things that I said before all the time.

“I’m going to kill ______”
“Just shoot me if ______”
“I’m just going to jump off the building . . . . ”
“OMG, I was so sick I thought I was going to DIE

Are they such a big deal? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe just for some of us, they are. I just know that I notice them now. Trust me, I’m not a Party Pooper all the time. Many times I let things go. People don’t know what they say. And they don’t understand what I’ve been through because I keep much of it to myself.

Or maybe they’re both. Maybe they’re loaded words that are a big deal and maybe I need to chill out about them too.

I can try.

But I still think that

getting old

is a great privilege.

Remember that.
Cross-posted to Just Enjoy Him.


7 Responses to “Words are loaded now.”

  1. […] that. __________________ Cross-posted to Mothers With Cancer. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)PopWatch Interview: 13 things you might not know […]

  2. Victoria says:

    I absolutely agreee that getting old is a great privlege, perhaps partly because my first husband died at 36. I’m 57 now and have wrinkles, sags, less waist – all signs of aging and I don’t mind. I feel fortunate to be alive, to have seen our daughters grown up and become mothers. I don’t just feel fortunate. I am fortunate. I know it. Thank you for a powerful and true post.

  3. Damn right. Well said.

    Kelly Corrigan

  4. whymommy says:

    Wow, welcome, Kelly!

    Judy, this post is spot-on. I know just how you feel. Cancer does change things. It changes perceptions, it changes priorities. It changes, in some cases, the way we feel about a life that we fought so hard to keep.

    It is a battle. And you better believe that I’m reveling in my respite from treatment right now, because I know what a precious gift it is to be able to do something as simple as stand up and walk. without pain. without nausea. without fear.

    What an awesome post.

  5. totally identify…..

    On a related note, a few years ago, I called a friend whose baby had died shortly after birth. During the course of our conversation, I related something frustrating about one of my kids, and found myself saying something to the effect of “I felt like killing him…” As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I wanted to floor to open up and swallow me.

    It is amazing how casually we throw around these phrases, until the weight of them comes to bear down on our shoulders….

  6. Stephanie says:

    Thanks for telling me about this post. Now I really want to read her book.

    A nieghbor of mine asked me how long I will have to have chemo – when I told me four months she said “Oh, that’s not bad at all.” Usually things like this don’t bother me, but for this one time I blurted out “Of course it’s not that bad Jody, since you’re not the one having chemo.” Probably not the most mature thing to say, but I just needed to say it.

  7. justenjoyhim says:

    Oh, man. Chemo is not a walk in the park, no matter how you slice it.

    And I don’t think it was bad at all that you gave her that reality check. Sheesh!!

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