Sunday, June 29, 2014

Ten Things Never To Say To Me

There are a lot of lists on the internet. According to my Facebook feed, there are somewhere between seven and ten things I am doing to screw up my child (if I had a daughter the list would be longer). Seven and ten seem to be magic list numbers, because that is also the range of bullet points outlining things happy people do (that I don't), ways I am undermining my fitness program, things I am saying that offend people who have children with disabilities, have suffered a loss, are dealing with a difficult illness, or some other problem that I don't have and might be scared of and therefore might react inappropriately to.

And there it is, in the last clause of that sentence. When we are going through something that scares other people, other people might not know how to react in a way that will feel empathetic and compassionate. Maybe they don't quite want to empathize, because they never want to be there themselves. Maybe they hold a different worldview and find comfort from a different direction than I do. Maybe everyone is different and what magically lifts the weight for one person is a burden beyond measure for another.

My experience with cancer, and treatment, has been an incredible gift. It has made my life simple emotionally, if complex logistically. It has enriched my understanding of relationships, helped me see where and what home is, brought the present into focus. I am not at all sorry to be going through this. It is who I am; it is my path. If I fight that, or resent it, I might as well just stop living right now. Certainly, I don't want to die, and I'll be damn irritated if I do because of all of this, but I'm not planning on it and don't expect it and I'd be really annoyed if I checked out now just because of a fear of checking out later.

That's my process. It isn't everyone's process, though, and that's just fine. So how can I know what to say to someone else who is going through something that might be hard, might be beautiful, might be both, might be neither? I don't. I can say something completely safe, and that's fine, but maybe I'm not big on small talk or safety. Maybe the safe option doesn't feel like the engaged option, and if I am reaching out to someone who might be hurting I want to act like I mean to be there.

Human interaction is important to me. That I need compassion and empathy doesn't negate my responsibility for offering compassion and empathy, and the first person who needs that from me is the first person who is trying to reach me and goes about it the "wrong" way. Mindful speech is important, and it is worth taking mental notes when people make clear what they don't want from an exchange, but what matters to me is intent. I do not want people to say nothing to me for fear of saying the wrong thing. I can take responsibility for my side of the communication.

So I don't have Ten Things Never To Say To Me. I don't even have one. If you mean well, if you want to connect, if the idea of getting leukemia twice and needing a bone marrow transplant scares you and that is part of what you need to communicate when you talk to me about it, by all means, please do. I can't imagine not finding that scary, if I weren't going through it. I don't want people to be correct around me, I want them to be authentic. (I'm not saying there aren't things that drive me nuts; we all have stuff that triggers a reaction. And I do get frustrated when I feel like I've made my reaction to certain things very clear. But I also recognize that some people don't pick up on those signals, and that's part of the process of compassion that I'm always learning).

Now go figure out the seven to ten things you are already doing right with your health, your relationships, and your life. And say whatever you want to me. I'm pretty tough.


  1. Sarah, you have a tremendous gift of making others feel good -- your blog is amazing and your gift as a writer need not be overlooked -- I'm glad you're not planning on checking out anytime soon and I honor your courage -- only you knows what you're going through and your dignity and graciousness is pretty damn awesome -- you have always been special -- keep up the good fight! Xoxoxox

  2. Grammatical error corrected:)