Friday, April 30, 2010

the problem with fear or - you can run but you can't hide

this week i felt the fall-out from "the black plague" effect of having cancer.

one of my oldest friends in new york city just ditched me when he heard i had cancer. rather, he sent a one line email. and then nothing more. this is a friend i used to call when my kids were little and i was broke and he'd show up with cash. or he'd come over to my apartment with his laundry and hang out with me while he did it in our big machines.

i loved him. the amazons adored him.

he was the person i walked the street with - along with my kids - on september 11, 2001. that day, i ended up walking the streets trying to locate my kids and then trying to get them somewhere safe, from 8am to 10pm, wearing a t-shirt with wonder woman on it and the omnious line, "you can run, but you can't hide." i never wore that shirt again.

my friend was someone i'd thought of as a part of my family.

though he'd been travelling a lot of late, i'd see his byline whenever he was in new york city. and i just assumed that we were still close, just out of touch a bit.

it turns out i was wrong.

i think the problem with cancer is that - for some people - it's just too big. too overwhelming of a burden. it makes you feel so powerless and ineffective, your instinctive reaction is to hide your head in the sand and pretend you don't see it. pretend you don't really know. just close your eyes tight and hope everything will be ok. and then just cut it out of your life.

just a day ago, a once-upon-a-time-friend - an old colleague of mine in new york city - met one of my friends who was visiting from abroad. they discovered they had me in common.

the once-friend, now colleague said to my out-of-town friend, "you do know that ameena is not well. she is very VERY sick." the colleague said this with the weight of finality.

i should add that while absolute strangers are sending me notes of encouragement on facebook and twitter, this colleague has also managed to avoid me for the past year. i haven't heard a word from her. and we were once friends.

my out-of-town friend said, "actually, she's cancer-free and feeling really good."

my colleague said, "well, is anyone REALLY cancer-free?"

my friend assured her that i was drinking kale juice and eating cruciferous vegetables in huge quantities so she wasn't worried.

and the colleague, not one to give up on her doom and gloom so easily, told my friend, "well... do you know ameena's a muslim?"

when your own life is complex and difficult, it's hard not to drop your friends into the black hole of non-existence when they start slipping.

i know i've lost touch with friends when their problems seemed to engulf my own.

so here's my advice - cancer does NOT equal death.

it's not contagious.

it's not insurmountable.

when someone is in the throes of chemo or radiation, even the smallest bit of help is so useful as to be magnified ten times. especially if you arrive unexpectedly when you're most needed.

even a kind note or an email or a phone call.

you don't have to show up every single day or be there every moment. because then you risk resenting the person you are trying to help. (and you might question your own motives).

and no one wants to feel like a burden or a chore either.

be a light. a sudden flash of love or energy.

make someone laugh for an hour or even 20 minutes.

not least because, if we don't manage to fix the multitude of ways we've made our world of balance, cancer is likely to hit closer to home next time.

learn how to handle it with grace at a distance

and you'll approach it with wisdom and intelligence if it comes nearer.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

cloak of invisiblity

when i was in college i had a friend in dance class called barbara.

she was absolutely beautiful in the classical sense - a perfectly symmetrical face, chiseled cheekbones.

she was 5'7" and had the most incredible body. she had been a rockette in the 60s.

she was used to a degree of attention when she walked down the street.

i was 22 and she was 56 so she was the first one to tell me about this phenomenon.

she said, "it was so strange when it happened. i'd be looking for something in a shop and no one would come over - unless i went to find help. all of a sudden, people didn't 'see' me.

or my car broke down on route one. i got out of the car and people didn't stop.

i was so used to people going out of their way to help me. treating me especially kindly.

and then i became invisible."

in barbara's case, in the beginning, it was liberating. she was so beautiful that she found all the attention tiring. she liked getting to feel like "everyone else" for a while. it was almost like being another man.

but it got old.

like her.

women of a certain age disappear. no matter how beautiful they are, they stand impatiently in the line at starbucks while the barista flirts with the 22 year-old and messes up their drink order. no longer useful from a reproductive standpoint, they become scenery. a backdrop for something else. are we still so driven by biology?

for the past few months, i've been one of those people one doesn't see. partly because i'd shrunk - literally. partly because my tiny form in the enormous winter clothes i was forced to wear (chemo made me supersensitive to cold) ate me up. partly, because my cheeks were sunken in and without eyelashes, hair and brows, my face lacked punctuation.

partly because i felt like an alien so i slunk around corners - i really didn't WANT to be seen. it was embarrassing to have kids stare at me. or to have to explain. the number of neighborhood kids i've said "hi" to who've said, "i don't know who you are..."

then there are all the people who avoid you because you look sick. cancer is the modern-day bubonic plague. who knows? it might be catching. anyway, it can be so depressing. when you look like death, who wants to hang out with you?

so here's how i know i'm getting well.

people smile at me on the street.

i got out of an elevator today and the guy getting in flirted with me.

i went into a shop and the salespeople were all over me, "LOVE the haircut!"

yes, i am superficial. i gulped down all the smiles like a person dying of thirst.

my cloak of invisibility dropped on the floor when my eyelashes came back. i suppose i still have it to look forward to in a couple of years, but i am relieved to be HERE for now.

Monday, April 19, 2010

beauty and all its forms

back at work and thinking about beauty and what it is. here i am with my partner diana on my almost last day on this project that i was sent home from because beauty is not what it seems.

so funny to work in the "beauty" industry - which means perfume, make-up, skincare - as opposed to kindness, grace, art, music, poetry or creating pleasant surroundings.

because i spent the weekend running around with the amazons, helping rara do a bake sale for st. jude's hospital, driving them to target, cooking, feeding, washing dishes and putting things away; my penance is that i have to throw together a script today.

and it's so funny but beauty is never what you think it is. you can define it - sometimes it's love, the tiny things someone does for you when they love you, bringing you little presents, helping you or paying attention to when you need help. sometimes it's lust, the way that longing can make someone's skin gleam, make their touch electric.

sometimes, it's something that feels so rare and magic - like standing in the center of the lilac bushes in the brooklyn botanical garden on a perfect day in may.

and it's so different than pretty. it's majestic. it's important.

for me, it can be watching the amazons eat breakfast. watching the way they tease and talk to each other or their serious faces when they are finishing up homework. i like it when they sing along with their favorite new song. i am always amazed at the women they've become.

strangely, so little of the beauty in the world has anything to do with the beauty industry.