Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The C-Word: What You Deserve

do you remember that games "chutes and ladders"? it originated in india as "snakes and ladders." a metaphysical exercise. with each toss of the dice, you either climbed upward to nirvana or slid downward to constant rebirth.

the british turned into an educational tool for self-improvement. in america, it was a 50s puritan morality play. you plant seeds and you get a fruit tree. you break a window and you empty out your savings.

the real thing one learns in all the games, one doesn't actually have a choice.

you throw dice. you land somewhere randomly. maybe on the square that says that you eat way too many apples. or worst of all on the square where you are sitting on someone's shoulders to reach the cookie jar (indulgence, greed, gluttony all at once). then you slide all the way down the longest chute to an impending trip to the emergency room.

there's a new anti-cancer campaign out that uses the shock effect to draw attention to lung cancer.

the headline is "cat owners deserve to die" or "hipsters deserve to die" or any other group. the tagline is "no one deserves to die."

with lung cancer, people assume that the person who got the cancer was a smoker and, therefore, cancer was the inevitable end. the punishment for their vice.

grandmothers can pull the children close and whisper, "you SEE! that's what happens if you smoke."

interestingly, i know several people who've had lung cancer and have never smoked.

i've also known people who are long-term smokers who never developed cancer or any other lung-related disease. does it "serve them right"? are they better people?

on that same chute, cervical cancer is the punishment for promiscuous women, ovarian cancer for women who've tried to have babies when their bodies said no. breast cancer, according to some right-to-lifers, is the result of abortions or not breast-feeding. they slid down into treatment. or death. the red letter C attached to their hospital gowns.

there is an increasing sense of protestant morality in the world today. poor people are poor because they are lazy. people who can't get jobs don't deserve them. people who are financially successful are treated better than people who are struggling. 

i hired a freelancer recently. someone i've known for 3 years who has done beautiful work in the past. has a great eye, creates simple, elegant presentations and usually available on a moment's notice.

unfortunately, she was travelling this time. despite intentions, work suffers when one does it on holiday. of course. sometimes, we need to shift our focus to real life and the people we love. needless to say, we had to hire someone else to fix the project. and then someone else again to make revisions. we lost the project.

when i tried to address my issues with her, she simply said she disagreed and sent her invoice. i sent her a check with a 20% reduction and a letter explaining that i was splitting the cost difference with her but that, if the project resurfaced, we could revisit it.

in answer, i got a vitriolic email that i was a liar and a cheat and a fraud thus all my "bad karma" (her reference to the cancer) was likely to get worse.

from what i understand about the buddhist laws of karma, there is no "good" and "bad" - those are purely our human perception. there is action and reaction. i do believe that i developed cancer (partly) in response to a particularly difficult moment in my life.

i am responsible for my life and my choices. rather, i am responsible for how i perceive it.

i don't believe that i or anyone "deserves" to get cancer or any other disease. i do believe we can choose how we deal with it, if we have the time and the peace to think. i believe we can think about changes in our lives that can make us healthier.

there is a new genetic test for an ocular cancer that allows a patient to see if he/she is likely to go into remission after surgery or likely to have the cancer become fatal. personally, i would take the test. it would allow me to seek alternative methods to heal myself. or to decide if i wouldn't want to just spend the next five years enjoying my life to the fullest, rather than letting chemo take me away from my family and friends.

though the truth is, i could learn why i should do that and still not do it.

we need to step away from our "chutes-and-ladders" thinking.

reactions are that. plain and simple. and there is good and bad in every experience. you gain pleasure or new skills or greater compassion for others. you learn to be more self-reliant or less so. more loving towards others or less self-sacrificing. even in fatal illness, you discover your inner self as your outer one fades. (please, no intention to be pollyanna here, i know cancer treatments are horrid and drawn-out and painful).

the choices one makes in life are so much a part of one's past, one's immediate situation, the way one deals with stress and fear. it takes a serious level of self-knowledge and evolution to rise above our conditioning and our triggers. and sometimes, even with that, we lose our footing on the path.

transcendence can feel impossible sometimes.

but let me tell you this. cancer is not Divine retribution. you are loved.

in the meantime, we roll the dice.

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