Last night I read a play that really impressed me. It is a piece of writing that satisfies on many levels. It’s called “W;t” (or “Wit”) by Margaret Edson, and it won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1999. I recommend it highly, especially to the Approximate Chef and Memma. You will love the protagonist, a 50 year old professor of seventeenth century poetry, specializing in John Donne. She has stage 4 ovarian cancer, and the action is set entirely in the hospital. Her understanding of life, of living from your wits, is rigorous, exacting, detailed, intelligent. Being treated for cancer puts her in a situation that is painful, humiliating, and collaborative. The script is brilliant and suddenly tender at the end in a way that doesn’t degenerate into sentimentality, but strikes firmly at the heart. If I were to see this live in the theater, I’m sure I would be unable to rise from my seat for a good half hour after the curtain fell. I’d be savoring every emotion. Read it and you’ll see what I mean. One of the “running gags” is that the intern keeps reminding himself of the “clinical” practice of asking the patient how she is feeling. The question may seem moot, or insensitive, or humorous, but it points to self-awareness regularly, which for most of us is sorely needed.
I am noticing the subtle changes of aging. I hear popping and cracking in my joints whenever I get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. I feel stiffness in the morning from sleeping on our rock-hard futon. I have never been very flexible, and today, I tried to do yoga along with a DVD. I found myself mesmerized by the instructor’s body and thinking of my sister Dharam, who has taught yoga, acrobatics and dance for 30 years. It is so beautiful to watch, and I feel like my body will never be able to do it. Memma can do it; she is fluid and flexible and of a completely different body type. I wonder if all bodies can if they practice regularly. The problem is fear. I am afraid and mistrust my own body. The way to dismantle fear is with understanding. I had a massage a week ago, and as each muscle was touched, I felt as if I were being introduced to it for the first time. “Oh! That’s my muscle going from there…to…there. It feels a bit tight and tender; I wonder if I can relax it? Breathe….” I am trying not to think things like, “Oh, my god! I am so stiff and creaky! There must be something really wrong with me. I probably have bone cancer!”
I keep reminding myself that I just had a full physical, mammogram and pap, and blood work done, all with normal results. If I hadn’t, I could probably convince myself that I had one foot in the grave. My hypochondria is fully actualized. I’m sure part of that is due to living with Jim throughout the stages of his illness and death. The vigilance we developed became a blessing and a curse. The trick is finding balance, finding the Middle Way. As I stand with my toes and heels together, arms at my side, breathing deeply through my nose, I remember this. Balance. Breath. Practice. Love myself. Ask myself compassionately, “How are you feeling today?”