Tuesday, August 07, 2007

What Matters Most

Days after my most recent breakup, I was on the phone with a client who is also a friend. She has one of those maddening cases where the facts are all in her favor and the law, or, more accurately, the process and standard of review, are stacked against her. Without divulging any client secrets, she was treated inexplicably unfairly by her employer, despite twenty-two years of exemplary and much lauded public service.

During this shitstorm, she also separated from (and eventually divorced) her husband of 20+ years. Suffice to say, 2006 - and much of 2007 - is sucking out loud for her. However, when I talked to her that night, she was rather upbeat, despite just ending a relationship in which she was deeply invested. As she is 15 years older than me, and I was wallowing, I was intrigued by her optimism. She told me that the man she had been seeing was conflicted about competing interests and that she just told him to choose for him what mattered most. Those words have stayed with me for a while and I continue to be amazed at their wisdom, simplicity notwithstanding.

Until very recently, I had lost sight of what matters most. I have had the luxury of self-pity and indulging in all this introspection. It really is a luxury in the grand scheme of things.

Two events have altered my perspective. The first is utterly random and a strange creature of the internet, to some degree. A few months ago, I read a book that just fucking resonated with me. Straight Up and Dirty is the title and while it sounds like typical chick lit, it didn't read that way to me. Stephanie Klein is, without question, my kind of writer - honest, humble, strong and insightful. I actually started (and finished it) the day of that conversation with my client.

It was the first time I finished a book and immediately wanted to thank the author. I didn't know it at the time of the reading, but Stephanie is something of an internet rock star and has a very successful blog, through which she obtained her book contract. I found her website, sent her a note of thanks for her book, and have exchanged a few emails with her. Her site has become required reading for me as, again, she is my kind of writer. Hell, just my kind of person.

I spent a good hour at her site, reading past entries (written both before and after the book). Her book ends as she is beginning a relationship with the man who eventually became her husband, so I didn't know that she now has fraternal twin babies. I just skimmed the posts, but gathered that it wasn't an uncomplicated pregnancy and delivery, and that her beans (as she calls them) spent their first days in the NICU. Stephanie isn't a mommy blogger by any stretch of the imagination, so the days of her mothering life isn't the focus.

Within weeks of my discovery her site, however, her baby boy had to be admitted to the hospital. The sage is ongoing, but it appears that he has acquired hydrocephalus. The saga started here and has understandably been her primary topic for the past few weeks. This woman, whom I do not know personally, but whose talent I admire from afar, is dealing with the scariest thing I could imagine, even though I don't have kids. Her baby has a brain condition and she has no idea what is going to happen to him.

Talk about what matters most. I have been so fucking self-indulgent and self-involved, and it took this virtual stranger's story to rouse me out of it. Sure, I have a heavy heart, but I was an active participant in the events leading to it and certainly wasn't dealt this kind of a hand. Yes, there are people suffering worse fates all over the world, but it took this one to bitch slap me into reality. Incidentally, her last post? I am not a crier unless in a darkened theater, but this one brought on the waterworks. There was a comment on that post that really resonated with me: it really is amazing how much we can care for people we've never met.....

Maybe I just needed to care about someone other than me. Or, better said, needed to feel that sense of empathy to remind myself that I am so very fucking lucky to experience this self-pity. I am ashamed of it tonight.

The second event happened to a friend of Kathy's (and the former girlfriend of a client). I was actually at the intersection where Kathy's friend Talia was in a bike-to-truck accident. Oddly, it was the morning after the most recent breakup, and I drove to work in a complete daze. Serendipitous, that. I was delayed at that intersection for 20 minutes (usual cross time? 2 minutes) while the cops directed traffic. I remember wondering what had happened and even checked the local news sites for information, to no avail. Turns out, Talia (on the bike) collided with a truck and had a series of seizures en route to the hospital.

Her injuries were largely superficial (cuts and bruises), but those seizures were a cause for concern. Turns out, Talia had a brain tumor - a big, fucking brain tumor - and had it not been for the accident, it probably would have remained undiscovered until she woke up one day, unable to talk. Talia has had a rough 2007 herself, but this took the cake. Her accident was at the end of June, and she had surgery to remove what could be taken from her brain at the end of July. Surgery went well, things were looking up for her.

And then the pigeons came. Mass removed from the tumor in her brain is malignant and very aggressive. She cannot speak, as the tumor has affected that part of the brain. Two years is the prognosis, assuming she does the chemo-radiation game, 6 months without. Presently, she is leaning towards the no-treatment, as she understandably doesn't want to spend two years sick by chemo with little quality of life. Oh, and did I mention she is only 34 years old and has a 9 year old son? No?

Yeah. What matters most. Am self-absorbed little shit. Feeling all shitty about lost loves and all that, when there are other, more palpable problems. Kids with brain issues. Single mothers with malignant brain tumors. Soldiers with limbs lost in a war fought for reasons 90% of the voting public doesn't understand. I have the luxury of sitting in my condo, lamenting whatever pity party de jour I have chosen to throw. I am ashamed and humiliated.

Kathy and I are going to work together to throw a benefit for this woman with a death sentence. I am officially over myself and so utterly bored with my self pity that I am starting to actively dislike my own company. Jesus. Disgusting. Pathetic. And fortunate - to quote my ex, because if my angst is the worst of my problems, I live a treasured life.



Norm said...

Are not self-absorbed little shit, you (he said while in the throes of a syntax seizure). You're very caring and generous. And I am inarticulate. Here.

cornutt said...

J'adore, mi amor. You are very compassionate.

I know just how self absorbed I have been. Peel back a few layers of this onion and you'd be weeping tears of disgust.

Upshot is that I am aware of it and working towards something better. Watch this space for personal growth and all.