March 20th, 2016
So often, when I sit down to write, the phrase, I don’t know where to start, comes to mind. It is the first clause of that sentence that paralyzes: I don’t know. Remember when you were a kid and the teacher asked you a question, how hot and cold you would go as you mumbled, “I don’t know,” as if that declaration was a confession that proved how stupid, lazy and hopeless an individual you were. We humans don’t do well with not knowing, and in the moment when the realization arises that we don’t have the answer to something it can easily close off the expansive arena of possibility and pitch us into the terror of the abyss.
Someone close to me (not Joel) is ill. For the sake of anonymity I will call this person Z. Z has advanced Neuro-Lyme disease which went undiagnosed for 15 years. Z nearly died from adrenal failure 3 days before we arrived in New York. Lyme disease, which has been an epidemic for 30 years, at least, still gets less attention than the Zirca virus has received in a few weeks, and yet has just as serious consequences. Lyme, contracted from the bite of a deer tick, is known as the Great Imitator. Tricky Tick, I call it. It can mimic, among other things, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s Disease and severe mental dysfunction. It can also affect the thyroid and adrenals. Yet testing for any or all of these things could come back ‘negative.’ An example: An MRI of Z’s brain showed it to be in “pristine” condition, yet at the same time Z was unable to recognize the numeral 2.
For the last 2 weeks I have been accompanying Z in I-Don’t-Know-Land, doing my best to accept not having any answers while maintaining the belief that Z will continue to navigate this hazard course until the boat rights itself and sails into safe harbor. We’ve put together a team of doctors and healers and Z, who is courageous beyond words, is surrounded by love and support. But the truth is still, I don’t know. So how does one relax into that, because really, none of us “know” anything. Sure, 2 and 2 make 4…don’t they? I don’t know. What if 2 is unrecognizable? Do two 2’s still add up to 4?
I always like to say that I write in order to discover the next question, so that I can find the answer. But what Z is teaching me is that there is a fine line between coming up with an answer that might save your life today and letting go of the need to find the answer to everything, in the mistaken belief that it will save you from ever dying. Years ago, a friend of mine’s mother was diagnosed with incurable cancer. She and her husband spent the next 3 years of their lives travelling to Mexico and Canada to find a cure. Her days were filled with hourly supplements and self-delivered injections. Then one night she died of a heart attack.
I’ve been in New York for 2 weeks and 1 day. During this time Joel became 78; I gave a reading from my novel and cancelled two other events in order to be with Z; I have marveled at how so many millions of people are able to live in a city, oblivious to the daily demands such stress puts on a person’s physical and mental well-being.
I have witnessed the horror of America’s misogynistic, racist, class-prejudiced medical system and been heartened by the humanity of a couple of doctors; I’ve travelled back and forth between Manhattan and Brooklyn more times in one day than I have in the previous 3 years; I have peeled an apple with my front teeth in a crowded waiting room in order keep Z from crashing before lunch; I have visited with friends who’ve listed patiently while I recounted the tales of the day and I have seen the sun glint off more steel and concrete than I can handle.
And I have watched sunset’s light play on the walls of our apartment, reveling in the mystery of shadows.
It is here, in the shadows, that I find an answer to today’s question, the question being: how do I live with serenity in the not-knowing. The answer being that there is nothing to be afraid of in the dark anymore than there is in the light. Knowing, not knowing, each carries the illusion of safety. Life, in any given moment can be experienced as a dangerous journey or a mystical adventure. Believe everything…know nothing.