It was the end of a very long day when I listened to my voice mail.
“It’s important, call me back.”
One of the more talkative people I know, my friend wasn’t usually cryptic.
I called back immediately. She didn’t say hello, only, “So there is a lump….”
My heart sank, because that’s a phrase I know well. I went into my mode. Like a pit bull, or a zen master, a problem solving zen master pit bull.
“OK, so you don’t know anything, I mean not yet, and even if it is the worst case scenario, it can be overcome, I mean look at me, they just keep taking pieces of me out and I am still pretty much whole and…”
“But I”m so healthy,” she interrupted me, so I wasn’t sure I heard her.
“I mean, how could I have cancer, or anything really, when I’m so healthy?”
And it hit me, all these years, all the supportive clucking was not empathy, it was relief. She wouldn’t get sick, like me. She couldn’t. She was healthy, she wasn’t lazy/sick/fat/sick/sick/sick like me.
“Well, anyone can get sick,” I said, because this is not a friend I hold things back from.
Neither does she.
“Yeah, I know, I guess, but I’m in such great health, I don’t drink, I work out constantly, I juice for fucksake.”
“Yeah, you do.” I love her. I do. And I actually understand where she’s coming from. I straighten my back when I see an hunched old lady. I walk miles and miles and feel virtuous. I drink so much water I sometimes feel I might be drowning myself from the inside. It’s hard to see someone sick and think you could ever be that. I get it. But in that one conversation, I learned something again. I learned that no matter how much you think people understand what it is like to feel unwell so often, they just can’t, unless they do too.
So in some ways, I won’t lie, I felt a shimmer of my own kind of relief in her confusion. But then I snapped back into it. Because he plight isn’t my plight and her pain isn’t my pain and I can love her and she can love me even if she doesn’t understand.
I resolved to understand.
“OK, so what’s the plan? When do you get checked out?”
“I don’t think you deserve it, you know.” She said.
“I know, but this isn’t about me, let’s get you squared away, ok?”
image from theguardian.com