FIVE PIECES OF
THAT SAVED MY BUTT
1. - BREAK the RULES.
By: Lila Keary
I was raised to believe that the only time to call Daddy at the office was if someone in the house was on fire, and though it was never stated explicitly, you got the definite sense that it’d better be the whole bathrobe and not just the hair going up in flames. Men weren’t to be disturbed or questioned: No back talk!
Those were the rules and following them served me well, but at 28 I got cancer and the rules no longer applied. “You mustn’t ever be afraid to make a scene, Marion said. “The meek shall inherit nothing.” She was my fellow patient, my guardian angel, my partner in crime, and she did not suffer arrogance, catatonic indifference, or incompetence gladly She died 14 years ago this month, but not before teaching me that “trying to find help in a hospital should not be like trying to find a clock in a casino.” Hell, Jell, the woman actually came out of a coma to tell her doctor he had “the interpersonal skills of a wolverine.” I remember her words every time I’m sitting on a steel table in the middle of a heavily trafficked hallway spilling out of a gown made from a Handi Wipe and an English muffin
2. - LIVE LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW.
By: Danzy Senna
That was the year I was dying of a million different diseases. Which was tragic, given that I was 22, just out of college, my whole life ahead of me . I didn’t have any evidence, but I could feel it, a mysterious illness growing inside of me . I then searched medical books for the correct diagnosis. Lupus . AIDS. Cancer. I didn’t know its name, only that it was something serious and deadly.
It wasn’t just illness that obsessed me in those days. I lived in a constant state of dread. My fear was like a stray dog, roving the neighborhood of my life, looking for a new source of worry. I secretly wanted to write fiction, but my state of anxiety had led me to take a job that I cared nothing about. It was the kind of job that would look good on my résumé, the kind that, boring as it was in the moment, might come in handy someday.
One day my mother, concerned, I guess, by my anxious phone calls, sent me a book in the mail. It was called The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, by Sogyal Rinpoche . I began to read it on that long ride from Brooklyn into Manhattan, just crushed between morning commuters.
The book asked me to imagine that I was going to die tomorrow. Not the way I had been imagining but calmly, fearlessly . It asked me: Are you living today in the spirit that you would like to be living on your last day on earth? Instead of fearing death, the book told me to prepare for its inevitable coming. Begin the process of becoming the person you want to be when you die.
When I finished the book, I didn’t reach enlightenment. But the book gave me a new, decidedly un-Western way of thinking about life and death and how the two connect. And one thing was for certain: When I imagined dying tomorrow, I sure didn’t want to be working at my job. The résumé wouldn’t do me much good after I died. So I quit my job. The next year, I went back to graduate school. I began to write fiction, my secret passion, rather than putting it off for the mythical future. I stopped thinking of my life as an anxious sprint toward some fixed finished line . It wasn’t that I knew I was not dying, but rather that I knew, paradoxically, that of course I was dying, as was everyone else on earth, and so I had better learn how to live.
3. - NEVER COMPROMISE!
By: Amy Bloom
If you want advice, ask a smart failure, not a smug success. The best advice I ever got about love was from a man who had been divorced just once, after marrying too young, and was long separated from a second wife. He spent the rest of his life unable to file the final divorce papers and unable to make that marriage work. His other romances came and went, after six months or a couple of years, whenever the lady in question wanted a commitment. He was committed to his friends, to me, and to his son, and as far as I could tell, for 30 years, that was it. I went to him for advice when I was 14. My best friend was in love with me, and I loved him so. I loved his sense of humor and his kindness. I even loved how smart he was. I loved being with him every day, all the time . I never got tired of him. But . Of course. Not in love. I was trying. We were making out, standing up and lying down. We were unbuttoning tops and getting sweaty. It wasn’t bad is what I told my adviser . “Honey,” he said. “It’s not going to get better. Love is a dance, and either you are moving to the same music or you’re not, either your heart feels what his heart feels or it doesn’t. Yours doesn’t. Let him go and do it fast . Slower and kinder never feels better.” Right on every count.
4. - TRUST YOUR GUT REACTION.
By: Francine Prose.
There’s advice that saves your life at the moment you get it. (Don’t get in that car with that lunatic! Don’t accept that free ticket on the Titanic!), and then there’s advice that just keeps on saving you. The best advice I ever got, of the latter sort, was given to me more than 30 years ago by a friend, the California filmmaker Freude Bartlett. We were discussing the very nature of friendship in general and love in particular, and she said, “If you want to know who your friends really are and whom you should be hanging around with, all you have to do is follow this simple test. Whenever you’ve just finished spending time with a particular person, ask yourself , do I feel better or worse than I did before? No long explanations, no equivocations. No excuses. Just “better” or ‘worse.” Then tally up the results, and pretty soon everything will begin to seem very clear.” Over the years, that advice has given me the courage to stay in some relationships and to leave them; it’s inspired me to extricate myself from unpro-ductive professional associations, destructive friendships, disastrous love affairs. It’s helped me surround myself with friends whom I love, and who love me. For three decades, that simple question— Do I feel better or worse than I did before I saw this person?— has saved my butt, and my heart, in more ways than I can possibly begin to count.
5. - THINK BEFORE YOU SHRIEK..
By: Lisa Kogan
HE LOVED ME. HE NEEDED ME. He couldn’t see a way to make it work. There might’ve been more—he was not in a position to give me the things I felt I deserved, we lived on two separate continents, etc., etc.—but at a certain point, I became too focused on not throwing up to hear anything else. I was furious and wounded and more than a little bit shrill—a lethal combination if ever there was one. I ranted. I sobbed. I blurted. Finally, I called my oldest friend. “You’re going to have to live with whatever you do next for the rest of your life,” she said. “How you choose to say what you want to say is crucial, so think very carefully about who you want to be when you look back on this story”
Given that my visceral reaction was to lob a large ceramic vase at the side of his head, it was not easy advice to follow But ever so gingerly we talked. With great deference, we listened. Slowly, slowly we got clarity And then we got better. That was 11 years and one daughter ago. I don’t believe that if a relationship is meant to be, it’ll be. I believe that the heart is a fragile little critter and it’s sure alarmingly simple to let love slip away Had my friend handed me a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and the standard men-are-dogs speech, things might’ve ended not so very happily ever after.
The OPRAH Magazine
May 2005. (Pgs. 278-280)
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