Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Heart of the Matter

Life changes in the instant.
In the ordinary instant.
~Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

I read an excerpt of this book in The New York Times before it came out in 2005. It's a beautifully written story about the author's first year after the sudden death of her husband, also an author. I could relate to so many of her thought patterns, her images, her descriptions of grief.

Her words often come back to mind randomly. Recently, it's the quote listed above that has danced through my head in some sort of successive wave. 

There was the matter-of-fact email I received from Samantha saying, "I have Stage 2 Invasive Breast Cancer." The words jumped from the screen, hit me between the eyes and bounced to the floor. What the...I just saw you a month ago. You have what???

And then, days before she was scheduled for her double mastectomy, Robert calls because he is experiencing his third mega-anxiety attack in a week. Turns out his mega-anxiety attacks were really heart attacks. HEART ATTACKS, people.

He went from a Saturday doctor office visit with an EKG, to the ER on Monday (51rst Birthday no less), to admission that evening. More tests on Tuesday, heart cath Wednesday, and ended the week with a double bypass on Friday.

While we can all say things like "it's routine," "he'll be fine," and "my friend/cousin/dad/sister had one last year," it all changes shape when it's happening to YOU. When it's your chest they crack open, your heart they stop, your lungs they collapse, or your breasts they remove. At that point, there's little comfort in the observations, reasons or even endorsements others offer.

These events brought home again the ever present notion that time is ticking. Ticking away for me, as Styx once sang...

My normal bend on people is that they suck. I mean in all candor, it's my prevailing opinion. I see too much of the bad in human nature. These times are pivotal in reminding me that not all people suck, or maybe better put, not all people suck all the time.

The support I witnessed for Robert brought it home. I believe (even though he doesn't) he is the heart of our restored warehouse apartment complex. His sculpture adorns the front of 150 Bay. His paintings currently hang in the lobby. He has hosted the best parties in the building's short history as an artist live/work space. So when the word got out that he was in the hospital for tests, everyone--near and far--wanted to know how to help. Where are the dogs? What does he need? Where can I send something? 

It was a testament to what you put out for others will be repaid. The heart of the matter really is, what kind of human are you?

Samantha has said that she too was wrapped in the care and concern of great friends. Given we don't live close by, it was something I could only witness via Facebook and email traffic. Yet I saw it again. Unwavering support and love for a beautiful friend.

At the top and the bottom of all of this, I'm relieved to say that both friends have made it through their surgeries and are on the path to recovery. They are home, they are on track. They are not "better," but they will be...and they survived.

Peace, y'all. And go get those lumps and pains checked. It could save your life.

Robert with Maggie and Stella, Jersey City


  1. So glad to hear your friends are on the road to recovery.
    I know it's been a hard couple of weeks.

  2. So nicely put. Thanks for the update ... hugs to all.


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