Monday, April 24, 2006

Thank you. No. Really.

Dear You:

This is a "thank you" note of a sort. I have begun, since this entire ordeal started, to see your layers stripping away, one by one, until only the true "you" remains. Or, rather, what remains of the true "you" remains. Up until two years ago, I'd run into friends of yours, who knew what I was to you, and they'd ask how you were doing.

"Fine, fine," I'd say, believing it to be true, because its what you wanted everyone to believe. But it wasn't the truth, I have since discovered. It was the truth as I understood it back then, but now I realize it was all a fabrication. You weren't well at all. You were quite ill, in so many ways. Numbness in the feet. Numbness in the heart. Paralytic fear in the deepest pit of your stomach. Fear of getting old. Fear of having to ask for help. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the known.

Now I see that your most serious illness is not neurological, or cardiological, or pulmonary. Your most serious, life-threatening illness is abject terror. It's all so clear now, I wonder why it took me so very long to see it. The images of my childhood come back, and they're largely of you, angry, screaming. Screaming at my mother. Screaming at me. Screaming at the television because someone has said something you didn't agree with. You're terrified of any idea that didn't germinate from directly inside your own brain. You panic when confronted with new technology, new ideology, new philosophy.

To think that I was so afraid of you -- of your cutting words, your vengeful spirit, your anger at me for reasons I could never ascertain. And all the time, you were the big fraidy cat.

Now, you live with an Everest-sized pile of regrets. Thing you wished you'd done that you didn't. Things you wished you hadn't done that you did. Things you said. Things you didn't say. Wishes unfulfilled. Opportunities wasted. Invitations put off until it was too late. Love not given. Anger not abated. Harsh words. Harsh judgments. I see now that you were paralyzed long before you couldn't use your legs.

I see now why it took you so long to tell the truth about your condition. It meant you were going to have rely on three people you didn't treat very well and weren't very nice to for years and years when they were young and helpless. People you'd never thought you'd need. People you never really wanted in your life in the first place, but just kind of showed up and stuck around, like little pieces of dog shit stuck to the bottom of your shoe, that you couldn't scrape off, no matter how much you rubbed the curbside. How frightening for you to suddenly find yourself at their mercy! And how confusing for you when they stepped forward and made sacrifices in the name of your care. That must have blown you away. Because in your mind you would not have done the same thing. In your mind, there's no percentage in it.

In truth, there is no percentage in it. The only reward is the act itself. But that's the nature of love. Forgiveness doesn't demand that we forget the past, only that we accept the fact that it cannot be changed, and that we don't wish to live in it any longer. You might read this sentence a thousand times, and you will still never know what it means. Because you cannot grasp unconditional love. Love for you has always been a day of bargain shopping at the flea market. This for that. Mine and yours. Never ours together.

And it breaks my heart now that I see it.

And that's why I have to thank you. I have to thank you because you have shown me how fear, once a useful tool to aid survival, is now only something that holds us back. This is not to say we will never have fear. I am still phobic about spiders. I am still phobic about dentists. But I go to the dentist, and I walk in the park and in the woods, because if I let fear run me, then I end up like you, sitting in a chair because there's no place my legs can take me anymore.


I don't want to be that way. I don't want to waste another opportunity. I want to go to the places I'm invited. I want to meet new people, experience ideas with which I disagree. I want to stay involved in my own life, in my country, and in the life of my child. I don't want to regret, for the only thing that brings true regret is what we never even attempted. I fail at relationships and continue to try because I know that loving another person is the most important thing we can do with our lives. You taught me that. By reverse example.

So, yes, thank you. Thank you for teaching me what I don't want. Because learning specifically what you don't want is just as important as learning what you do want. Knowing how not to live can make clear for you the kind of life you want.

I thank you. I forgive you. I will take care of you. I know that nothing I can do can completely eradicate the fear you have -- and it may be my only unremitting regret. Because I want you to not be afraid as you near the end. I want you to walk into it with your head and shoulders up, whether your legs are working are not, as if it is the biggest of life's adventures. Because it is, you know. The end is every bit as important as the beginning. Every bit as auspicious. Every bit as full of promise and mystery. And I'd hate for you to miss it because you were looking down at your earthbound feet.


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