Tuesday, February 08, 2005

"I Am Not Broken"

I run a second-hand book sale at the local Unitarian Society, and an acquaintance there suffered a nasty accident at the beginning of autumn, which involved a collapsing folding chair and cost him the tip of his index finger. Since he plays guitar, this was especially unfortunate. I have never been especially close to this guy, who tends to be a bit self-dramatizing and has (I have always thought) a faintly disagreeable way of making events and stories turn into his story. Nevertheless I felt very bad for him, and asked how he was doing and commiserated with him whenever I saw him.

Things come around, and a few months later I found out that I had prostate cancer. Unitarians are a very caring (not to mention loquacious) bunch, and while I was in the hospital people were calling up my wife and telling her that they would bring supper that evening. This was very welcome, and I didn't mind (or evince surprise) that word had gotten around. The next time I saw this guy, he came up and gave me a hug.

We spoke during my most recent sale, and I asked him how he was doing. He told me about a support group he goes to, for people who have suffered some kind of injury from which they shall not fully recover. One of the things they say there, he reported, is: "I am not broken." He seemed to take some comfort in this, and thought that I might.

I agreed it was an interesting thought, but said that for my own part, I am definitely broken. "But I still work," I added.

He seemed startled by this, and I could see him trying the thought out. I am broken, but I still work. I'm not sure whether he decided to go with that message instead.

Interesting how we can be moved by phrases that possess rhetorical power. Say it figuratively or with great concision, and it sounds true.

13 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like that. Takes a while to work though the implications and resonances, which makes me like it the more.

---L.

6:45 AM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

I like your version.

I have a friend who has survived two bouts of breast cancer--one twenty years ago, the other last year--with grace and humor. Part of her way of coping has been through affirmations of all sorts; she has them on Post-Its all through the house, her conversation and emails are filled with them, and they appear to have some real benefit for her. I can see the virtue in them for her, but they tend to put me off, like bumper stickers for the soul. I wonder, if or when I have some big medical battle to fight, if my feelings will change. It's a little like religious faith: I've always rather admired people who could hold to a particular creed, but have no sense that I could do it myself.

1:34 PM  
Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

I'm having a medium medical fight, and Mad, the affirmations still feel phoney and un-nuanced to me. I like Greg's version better. It feels positive without feeling untrue.

6:55 AM  
Blogger Gregory Feeley said...

There is a certain defiance in resolving not to allow any drop in standards, isn't there?

I occasionally feel, in someone's well-meaning remark, a pressure to acknowledge that in light of what has happened to me, adages like "Take it one day at a time" perhaps seem a little wiser now, or that a brush with mortal illness really "puts it all into perspective."

Well, I'm currently writing a novel that will take a few years to finish; and how should my perspective on life have changed? My perspective always acknowledged that individuals can be suddenly stricken. I didn't think it would happen to me, but at 49, that was a reasonable assumption.

So no, I don't think this has changed my world view -- certainly not into something reducible to a homey aphorism.

8:29 AM  
Blogger claire said...

"I am broken but I still work"

I think I have found my new mantra. While I am not currently dealing with medical emergencies the last six months have been challenging and I think that this phrase is something that can help. Thanks.

And yes, I am rather fond of UUs...

--claire

9:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(...posting as LauraJMixon...)

That's quite good.


-l.

12:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I have never been especially close to this guy, who tends to be a bit self-dramatizing and has (I have always thought) a faintly disagreeable way of making events and stories turn into his story."

6:46 AM  
Blogger Gregory Feeley said...

Yeah, I said that. Nu?

2:59 PM  
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