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October 13, 2010

Breast Cancer Awareness

I’m ditching the format. Everyone knows I don’t do well with structure for too long. I thought I should write down some thoughts about breast cancer since it’s October and we have Race for the Cure and the NFL Pink auction going on.

I can’t afford any of those Pink NFL items, but I keep checking in case there are some bargains to be had. I’d like to have a Cowboys item if I can find something cool and affordable.

When you’re young, you’re immortal or at least you think you are. You also think of the world in terms of permanence and change is initially very painful. The people around you are permanent facets in your life until they are not there either through physical distance or something truly permanent.

While I was still getting my undergrad, my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer and looking back I know I couldn’t grasp the severity of the situation. I went to be with her in the hospital before her operation knowing that she was going to be fine. I really had no fear for her. I wrote a card, which most people know is rare for me, and I instructed her to wait until she came back from surgery to read it.

She waited for the nurses to wheel her out of the room (and just out of my sight) and read the card on the way in to the operating room. She told me later she didn’t know if she was going to make it through the operation and she didn’t want to die without having read the card. It made me realize how serious the situation truly was and I moved back in with her for the summer to take care of her while she rehabbed. I’m happy she was a cancer survivor for many years before another bout with cancer finally did take her.

Thinking about this and coming off my explorations from last month I feel directed to the conclusions that we only live once and we can only experience that life through our vessel. We get one body, one mechanism, with all its detectors and processors, through which we experience our only attempt at life. This life must be experienced in a physical way to have any meaning at all.

In the same way craftsmen maintain their tools, scientists calibrate their instruments, artists meticulously care for their supplies, and musicians tune their instruments, we must perfect our vessels. You can’t create a masterpiece with inferior equipment and you can’t experience your best life with an abused or even an underused vessel.

I hadn’t realized how I had let myself go for years until the peak of gluttonous revelry in NYC over MLK a few years back. I still love that Hudson Baby Batch Bourbon. Since I moved to Lubbock, I’ve been putting my body through severe punishment. Brutal and nearly constant physical trauma, or at least that’s how it feels at times. Riding to class, riding the gym, working out with weights and team sports, swimming and riding home only to go for a walk with Dixie has left me constantly exhausted and yet I feel great. I can float on air, twirl around for the heck of it, and run just to feel my vessel move.

At some point we all have an appreciation for the physical realm purely for the sake of being physical. Kids love to move, running for no other reason than to see how it feels and to embrace those feelings. Like a high, it wears off and we have to push farther until as an adult we typically only rejoice in the physical during sex. At least most of us can maintain that little bit of the physical.

I am reminded of a friend’s interesting, persistent, and looong accounts of bike trips across the country. I imagine endless miles of relative nothing connected by the pumping of weary legs for days on end. I think the resulting physical euphoria is rare and valid in our life experience and I wonder why many more of us don’t do anything similar.

Do we avoid challenges? I think we certainly avoid physical challenges and in doing so we allow our vessel to grow dull and incapable of detecting the more extreme nuances life has to offer.

More importantly, does this avoidance of physical challenge apply to the other realms life? Do we avoid mental challenges, turn away from soul searching, or inadvertently or unconsciously take the path of least resistance every day? And in the process are we robbing ourselves of our own life experience?

Billy the Kid (Emilio Estevez in Young Guns) said that you have to test yourself every day and his point has remained in the back of my mind for 20 years now. “You have to test yourself, see how good you are, see if you can make it…Once you stop testing yourself you get slow.”

Doc [Kiefer Sutherland] wisely replies “You wanna keep testin yourself, fine…I am riding to the border where I am getting a hot meal, a bath and a good night’s sleep.” This is it, those are the choices we make that take us away from suffering, but simultaneously dull our senses by neglecting the vessel.

Life is suffering from the first noble truth I discussed last month and in that column I state how I prefer the challenge; I’m with Billy on this one. You can’t sharpen a blade without grinding metal. The seemingly simple choices of good food and comfortable beds are not always the best choices, particularly when made repetitively over long periods of time.

Changing direction, I like comfort too. In the same way that a life of comfort is dull, a life of pain, or the same challenge, is also numbing. Once again I feel that the cessation of suffering is not an appropriate response, but instead a life of peaks and valleys. Be careful not to let the extremes get overly extreme, but don’t call that moderation around me.

Song of the month:

Oh man, so many songs come to mind this month. I love that Black Keys "Tighten Up", and I'm tempted to put the lyrics of MC Frontalot "Yellow Lasers" since I just watched the Nerdcore documentary with friends, but generosity wins out and I'm going with a song that was thoughtfully given to me and has expanded my mind.

Lyrics to "If You Stayed Over (Featuring Fink)" by Bonobo
     If it's on, it's on for good [yeah]
     Cause when it's gone, it's gone for good
     let me tell you...
     And if you stayed over
     You know we would