A friend of mine, also suffering from a brain injury with fantastically similar symptoms to those of my stroke, shared some of her tendencies with me. “I buy the same books over and over!” she exclaimed, throwing her arms up in frustration.
I bought two copies of About Alice by Calvin Trillin last week. I’d had no idea I did that–I didn’t remember buying the previous copy weeks ago. I simply brought home the more current copy and proceeded to read it. After a few days of diligent reading, I closed the book, very satisfied by its short but meaningful experience. I’d even bookmarked pages with meaningful quotes. And I was pleased to add it to my booklist. Number TWO! It was the first book I’d FINISHED since my stroke. Yes, it’s a short book, but it COUNTS.
A couple days went by–and I went looking for the book again, with the intention of looking up the quotes and writing them down. I found a copy and mysteriously, it had NO bookmarks at all on it. Furthermore, it was an autographed copy. What? Had I entered a new dimension? Then it dawned on me. “Sheeeit! I bought TWO copies! Damnit!” My short term memory deficit was rearing its head again.
I was both tickled and stunned by my discovery.
It took me awhile to find the other copy, but there it was, on the coffee table in the den, just as I had left it (at which point I remembered, “Oh yah. That’s where I put it last.”)
Here are the quotes:
This was a dozen years after Alice had been operated on for lung cancer,and among the things she wrote to our friend’s daughter was that having lung cancer and being raped were comparable only in that both were what she called “realizations of our worst nightmares.” She said that there was some relief at surviving what you might have thought was not survivable. “No one would ever choose to have cancer or be raped,” she wrote. “But you don’t get to choose, and it is possible at least to understand what Ernest Becker meant when he said something like ‘To live fully is to live with an awareness of the rumble of terror that underlies everything,’ or to begin to understand the line in ‘King Lear’–‘Ripeness is all.’ You might have chosen to become ripe less dramaticaly or dangerously but you still can savor ripeness.”
And on p. 72:
Alice loved Bruno’s letter. For her, of course, the measure of how you held up in the face of a life-threatening illness was not how much you changed but how much you stayed the same, in control of your own identity.
I wish I could have met Alice. She was a survivor whose experience with cancer gave her a depth of understanding and compassion that Trillin truly touches on.
These days, I’m looking to role models as well as so many other guiding posts. I don’t want to be the kind of sick person who only talks about HERSELF and can’t help others (yes, this despite the blog where I uh, only talk about myself really). So I have a heightened sense of how much I talk about myself to people–I try to limit talk about my stroke (though it’s inevitable that we touch upon the subject).
Now I am looking forward to future behavior–what kind of person do I want to be? What will I do with these lessons?
I may have another stroke again. I am lucky–I had a TIA (a milder version of stroke) a few years back, and who knew that there would be a bigger, longer lasting recurrence, in the form of a stroke? Really, I shrugged off the possibility years ago, “Nah, I won’t have another one. This one was a fluke!” In a few weeks, I will be going in for surgery to close the hole in my heart that may have led to the stroke.
Life is unpredictable.