Archive for March, 2013

posted by Amy on Mar 10

This post is prompted by someone I “know” because we both have the same kind of breast cancer. I’ll call her Kim. I “met” Kim through an online support group. She also has a blog, and a Facebook page. I have linked to her blog from this one. I was following her on Facebook, but stopped when I realized that for all the ways I was connected to her, it was a one-way street, and not any kind of friendship. And it’s not just me. On the support group site, Kim never offers anyone else any advice or encouragement or empathy. She only posts to talk about herself. But, except for the story of her cancer treatment (which has been bumpy, and is not going well) she never reveals anything about herself as a human being–her passions, her fears, her hopes or dreams.

Kim posted a video on her Facebook page that was made by a group that films people who are dying and lets them and their loved ones tell their stories. Recently on the online support group another member posted two videos about young men dying from cancer, then another about a very small child, then the one about Kim that I had seen on Facebook. Kim then posted another video about a woman who also has stage iv breast cancer and commented that her own video is the least “popular” one. She wondered why.

I thought about what made her video different, and less compelling. The videos about all the other people show interesting interactions with others, and indicate how specifically they have affected the lives of others. The other woman with breast cancer is shown going around talking to and hugging other cancer patients at the treatment center. She insists that “you have to laugh every day.” She talks about her passion for photography, and you see some of her photos. Her adult children tell little stories about her that reveal a real, vital connection with a vibrant, passionate human being. In her facial expressions and her voice there is humor, kindness, sadness–real emotion. Kim, on the other hand, is guarded and wooden. She says she loves her family. She calls her kids her “legacy.” But there’s something missing. There’s no spark. Perhaps she’s simply introverted–a private person. But if she’s private, why does she have the blog and the Facebook page? Why did she do the video?

I think the real issue might be that there really isn’t any “there” there. On the support group site there’s a page for people to describe themselves in roles other than someone whose life has been affected by breast cancer. Kim’s “self portrait” is brief and passionless. What are her hobbies? What motivates her? How did she and her husband meet? What does she do for fun? She doesn’t say. The video doesn’t provide many clues either. The story doesn’t have any kind of trajectory or arc. There’s no hook–no message, no mission, no theme, no denouement. She’s dying and she doesn’t want to die. She’d like to see her kids graduate, get married, have kids of their own. OK, that’s true for just about everyone. What else?

A video like that would be a fantastic opportunity to reach out to “earth people,” the ones who don’t have death visibly perched on their shoulders. The two young men do just that. Their videos show what they are doing to pack as much meaning, love, and joy into their lives as they can in the time they have left. Their videos also convey the deep connections they have with important people in their lives. One man has two young children. He and his wife tell about him putting together a binder for each child so they’ll have something to remember him by. He ends his video by urging viewers to do something concrete to build community and share love. He invites people to upload videos showing how they’re responding to that invitation. Kim’s many publications do no such thing.

The important question, though, is why Kim bothers me so much. Am I like her? Am I self-centered and narcissistic? Am I squandering the opportunity to help people wake up and live full, expressive, meaningful lives?

I’ve written before about my struggles to figure out how self-revealing to be. My default position is secrecy and guardedness. When I first started becoming aware of how some childhood experiences had scarred me, I made the mistake of sharing too much with the wrong people. I still sometimes get it wrong. I may have damaged a very important relationship with a beloved family member by telling the truth. But I am aware of the issue, and I’m trying to walk the line.

I’m not very demonstrative. I don’t often call people on the phone, even people I love and long for. I tend to play my cards close to the vest. Lately I have been trying to reach out to people more. I send cards and letters. I started a knitting circle at school, and I have taught several people how to knit. The knitting circle is a great way to get to know people and make a real, in person, regular connection. I post things on Twitter and Facebook that show what I’m learning about social justice and social ethics (and all the other, myriad things that interest me.) That’s my main way of sharing myself with the world, of making a mark.

I want my kids to remember my creativity, my passion, my hunger for justice, my burning desire to do the right thing and make the world a better place. I want them to feel free to be themselves and to enter fully into authentic, meaningful lives of their own. And I want them to know that, to me, that was the best way to be a mother to them–to show them how to be whole (but not perfect) people, to model courage and heart. I want my friends and classmates to be inspired to follow their own passions and dreams, to realize that we can’t always choose our fate, but we can always choose how to meet it.


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