I'm not afraid because I'm a coward; my fear is rooted in the terrible reality I've lived with for the better part of two decades. My Ph. D. research was on cancer--a qualitative study that looked at women with varying cancers for a five-year period. In EVERY case, the individual woman had a sustained, consistent stress that permeated her existance for at least six months to one year prior to diagnosis--including recurrences. This pattern is equally evident in my own experience. And in the last decade, medicine has served up multiple studies in journals like Nature, Cancer, the Journal of Neuroscience, and the New England Journal of Medicine that show that stress not only feeds cancer cells or cells in the mutation process, it also gives them proverbial passports. Scary. You won't get cancer if you're stressed about normal "everyday" kinds of things like getting your laundry done and making dinner and finding time to sew the pumpkin costume after attending the PTA meeting--more like the kind of stress derived from some kind of trauma, a serious personal loss, like loss of career, or marital problems/divorce, or the loss of a close friend, parent or relative--these are the top stressors that effect people negatively, according to a 2009 article released by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
The reason why women tend to be more prone to stress-induced health issues (it doesn't have to be cancer--it can any number of other issues, from auto-immune to gall bladder) is that women do not have what is called "emotional containment." Basically, the female brain does not compartmentalize. We couldn't be the nurturers nature expects us to be if we did...simply put, for women, EVERYTHING is connected. It's brain chemistry. You can take any variety of neurological drugs to "dampen" the anxiety and of course, decrease the stress--but for someone like me, that's simply not possible. I developed allergies to almost every neurological drug available. When you have one severe reaction to a particular drug-family, the chances of you developing a serious reaction to similar drugs is good in a small percentage of humans, who, like me, are more sensitive to chemicals across the board, so to speak.
And my fear has even more evidence to back it up. In the last year, I've had terrible symptoms that would typically be indicative of a new brain tumor. We were checking every three months for a while, but I became tired of feeling like my world was going to end every three months. That's how it feels, by the way. To have survived one brain tumor was difficult enough. Two, well, let's just say I'd like to not hear my neurosurgeon play connect the dots on my skull again. Oh that's right--not possible anymore. A large part of my skull is covered in titanium from the LAST time I had to go through all this. It took me almost two years to feel human again. I don't think I can go through something like that a third time. Somewhere between my second brain tumor and today, I was also diagnosed with Melanoma, Diabetes and Graves Disease. The result of my last neurosurgery also left me partially paralyzed. Now, you're getting it, aren't you???
Scary stuff. Still think I'm a coward? Didn't think so....
So when the offer was made to go to my favorite eatery in the middle of the week, there was a good reason. When I eat, it's not like when you eat--it's more like I'm enjoying a flavor I may never get to taste again. The handmade cavatelli aren't just delicious, they are what I call "little pieces of heaven" enhanced by the marinara sauce that has clearly been cooking on a stove somewhere in the back for hours--the tomatoes, the garlic, the olive oil--it's a savory wake up call to my eager tastebuds. Food isn't just sustenance; it is an experience in living, in using this terrific body to do something I simply can't do without it. Enjoying flavor, texture, nuanced delicacy in edibles and things like beverages goes well beyond any "foodie" mentality because my feelings for food are about not taking my rather temporary body for granted. Do you think about that as you inhale a slice of pizza? Guzzle a soda down your gullet? Of course not! Nor should you.
And this kind of life-viewing is not a choice; it's simply my reality. My reality, as you may imagine, is therefore rather intense. I lose patience with people who don't seem to appreciate the joyousness life has to offer, simple things, like home-made cavatelli, and other important parts of life, like your spouse or your children. I also have a problem with the miserable--I have oodles of compassion for your suffering, having suffered greatly myself and knowing more suffering is in my future--but what I CANNOT abide is that, though many of you reading this now don't, can't and won't understand how I feel, there is no REAL difference between us.
You're temporary, too--you just haven't been given the same "opportunities" I have to experience your mortality in such a direct way (that's a good thing, btw). I become exceedingly sad when I see the miserable. I can't really help them to understand that life isn't truly theirs--they're just borrowing it. There are no winners or losers--we're all on equal fields with EVERY living thing on the planet...part of the reason why I REFUSE to eat animals. My "life" will end in death anyway--I'll be damned if I sustain something so temporary by causing more death! It's unconscienable (IMHO). But again, I don't expect the world to see things this way. I believe in intellectual freedom--people have a right to see things the way they want, even if it's harmful to others. Philosophy isn't just an abstract to me--I live it daily. Happily so. It was when I began my friendship with a particular philosopher that I could weave all the threads of my life together into some semblance of sense--without philosophy, I'd either be dead, or in a straight jacket.
One seemingly insignificant lunch today formed the roots of the above tree. Isn't that amazing??? Nothing is insignificant in my world because I know everything is temporary in a way most people simple don't/can't yet recognize. You can perhaps understand better why when I look at people, I see things others can't. It's my "superhero power" if you will--part of the reason why I adore comics as much as I do. And you can also probably understand better why I research and write about vampires. Life is so valuable to me--not just mine, but everyone else's, too. Much of my work is to help people recognize this innate value. That's why I miss teaching so much. Everyday, I had an opportunity to help people further their lives in positive ways. I could see things in students they hadn't yet seen and helped them recognize their own talents. My time as a professor was a divine gift--and I didn't waste it. Not a single second. Whatever it is you love, or don't love, I hope you can look at it now--even if it's only for a moment--through my eyes.
Life is not easy. It's not simple. Not for any of us. So the next time you go out to eat for an impromptu lunch, I want you to really eat--be mindful of EVERYTHING--your tongue, your mouth, your cheeks, the way each bite of food tastes from the moment it hits your mouth to moving down your throat and into your stomach. Being mindful of the impermanence in life can be scary, it's true--but if you live life with keen mindfulness, you will enjoy everything life has to offer that much more...including food. And, a bonus benefit is, it will be a rarity when you have to eat something other than food, like your own words.... :)
Until next time, dearest readers...eat and be merry!