Wednesday, May 15, 2013

a world of loss

Angelina Jolie, a moderately good American actress who has won an Academy Award, announced
Monday that she had had a double mastectomy -- both breasts removed because she carried within her an 87% chance of contracting breast cancer.

Hollywood runs on boobs, so in a business sense, the action probably aroused anxiety. But (if the ladies will forgive me for a second), women run on boobs as well. Not just are breasts a matter of allure or motherhood, they are also, somehow more deeply, a profound, if unstated, assumption of who a woman might be. (Guys, if you are having a hard time keeping up with this, just consider what it might be like to be castrated.)

I cannot pretend to know or understand the swirling confusion, the wild swings from the rational to the viscerally irrational, the sense of numbness following searing jets of emotion ... I cannot know and, in a whispering world, I am glad I don't. "Life-turned-upside-down" is a wimpy attempt to describe the fallout.

Profound loss. Really profound.

How I wish sometimes that the word "loss" could be expressed without the component of threat, of scariness, of run-for-the-hills. It's probably not possible, but, wistfully, I wish it were. The threat component leads to so many agitated attempts to keep loss at bay -- to build religions and philosophies and buttressed walls and tight-knit social functions and other perfections -- get thee behind me Satan! And still there is loss. And still the world gets turned upside down. And still there are facts. Death, disease, drugs, divorce and, more subtly, delight ... and so often the threat is front and center.

I wish the threat component could be set aside because I don't think people are most sensible when under threat. Whether from within or without, threat induces panic and panic is not a very useful tool.

Somehow, there really is a need to address what is called loss. I find the format I chose -- Zen Buddhism -- a pretty good format. And yet, in saying that, I want to scream out that I could give a rat-fuck if anyone takes up Zen Buddhism. Everyone finds their own format with which to address their lives and their losses.

But although everyone picks his or her own poison, I have a hunch the outcome, when effective, is the same. The effective format is the one that stops holding loss at bay with talismans or prayers or convictions or beliefs or drugs or any other gizmos. The effective format is the one that does not shield anyone from loss ... it is the one that learns how to welcome it in.

This is not just some spiritual eyewash, some goody-two-shoes paradox. It is as literal as it may prove difficult. To live in fear is painful and unhappy-making. Check it out. There are entire religions that make a wondrous living by inducing fear in a membership those religions claim to "love." And that includes atheism.

Threat ... fear ... quick! reinforce the walls that will keep loss at bay!

But take away the threat bit by bit in whatever format is chosen and what is left? Where the threat is no longer enthroned, most of us are left with the facts of life. An 87% chance of contracting breast cancer. A double mastectomy. A loss so overwhelming that the tears don't reach and the cries don't inform. And there's nothing saying that the facts of life have to be gloomy and thereby threatening stuff. There is laughter to be had as well ... lots of it ... and lost as well.

It takes honesty and it takes guts, but I think any man or woman might want to take some time to examine the assumptions of their lives. Not as a means of armoring themselves against loss, but as a means of enjoying the lives they lead. Threats can be pretty imperious, but still ... what are the facts of the case? Ripped to shreds, whole and happy, boob-less or ball-less, tall or short, in-breath or exhalation ... what are the assumptions and what fact do they prove?

Written out, it all sounds very serious and scowly. And it's true, reflection takes some work. But threats can outstay their welcome. Examination puts them in their place. Loss is loss and it can rend the skies. Gain is gain and it can erect gorgeous spires. But bit by reflective bit, isn't there something to be said for getting comfortable in the skin you or I might claim to inhabit? Isn't there something to be said for enjoying ...


If the mommies of assumption can't kiss things better, why don't you give it a whirl?

1 comment:

  1. I find that my reaction to Ms Jolie's decision is coloured by ambivalence.
    Which given the fact that her moccasins are not mine is perhaps not inappropriate.