Mole, and Other Small Happy Things

Today walking home from school with Owen, I saw Levi, another fourth grader. Levi has Down’s Syndrome, and he and Owen were in 1st grade together. Whenever I see Levi, I remember the time I went in to read to the class. I was wearing a long skirt and sandals, no panty hose, and the teacher had me sit in a chair in front of the group of kids who were sitting on a rug facing me. Levi was right beside me, with his aide by his side. As I read, I noticed that Levi was looking intently at a mole I have on my ankle, warmly brown, nice and oval, about the size of a pencil eraser. I imagine it looked really luminous and lovely to him. After a while, he couldn’t help himself anymore, and he reached out with one finger and gently, gently, stroked. It was the sweetest moment, and a kind of understanding passed between us. I completely got why someone would want to stroke that mole. His aide immediately discouraged him and asked him to tell me he was sorry, but I just smiled and said, “It doesn’t matter.” In fact, it was one more beautiful moment in an already beautiful day reading some of our family’s favorite tales to Owen’s funny, happy, grumpy, curious, engaged, bored classmates.

At the time, I was in constant pain from an arthritic hip, and sitting there with my alluring mole was actually something of an agonizing situation.

Lately, I’ve been watching people and wondering how they’re going to die. There are so many ways! So many different kinds of diseases – the kinds of cancer alone boggle the mind. I watch people walk by as I’m out in public and wonder what’s going to take them down.

I have a long history of watching people and being taken in by their private lives. When I first started my period, I looked at women, marveling and being sort of horrified that every single one of them had or had had periods. It totally blew my mind. I read a lot of Archie comics at the time, and I remember thinking, “Fuck, Betty and Veronica get their periods!”

Later, when I became sexually active, I looked at everyone and thought about them fucking. I thought about guys’ dicks getting erections. Freaked me out!

Now that I’m middle aged, I think about death, about the failure of the body. It’s driving me fucking crazy! Because I don’t actually want to be going around doing this, it’s not like I think it’s particularly healthy. It’s just when I’m stressed, which I am now about so many things, my hypochondria kicks into full gear and then it spills out onto other people. SUCH A PAIN IN THE ASS!!

I just picked up this book called Living Our Dying: A Way to the Sacred in Everyday Life by Joseph Sharp, a gay guy who was a chaplain to terminally diagnosed patients and founded the Dallas Center for Life Healing. I haven’t read much of it yet – I started getting weepy reading the first bit in the bookstore, about a mom in her late forties with cancer (I’M IN MY LATE FORTIES!!!), who asked him to help visualize her death. Anyway, I need to let go of being so afraid of death all the time – I mean, I know it’s about my anxiety, but it’s so immobilizing – so I am really looking forward to hearing what he has to say (he’s a long-time survivor of AIDS, by the way), even though I’m kind of scared to read it, in that oh-man-I’m-going-to-have-to-do-some-stretching-and-growing kind of way.

When a friend and I saw Susan Jeffers, the Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway lady, she recommended making a list of 50 positive happy things that happened that day before going to sleep. My friend and I did that, first thinking it would be impossible, but it was really cool – the more you wrote, the more you thought of. Jeffers says we are pulled by the negative for whatever reason, and concentrating on the positive is like building up an unused muscle, and you have to keep working it to keep it in shape. I remember one of the things I wrote, so long ago (this was in the late 80s, early 90s) was “How pretty my new rug looks in the sunlight.” The positive happy things don’t have to be really big, and in fact, it turns out that the small things are some of the sweetest ones, like Levi honoring my mole with a gentle touch of his darling finger.

I’ve been sick with a cold all week. Most of the day today I spent on the couch with one of the cats, reading Set In Stone: Butch-On-Butch Erotica edited by Angela Brown. I’m coming out of my hypochondriacal phase a little bit, just because I got busier and then I got sick. It lurks, though, all the time – have to keep building up my positive muscles. I mean, it staggers me how people long ago just kept on keeping on, even during the plague, even when some unbelievable number of kids died before they grew up, even when people often didn’t make it to my age. I mean, how did the survivors go on? They just made themselves a little hair locket and got on with their business. Of course they were sad, devastated even, but they kept living their lives.

It’s no different now, not really. As my Beau says, one of these days one of us will be diagnosed with something nasty, or will drop dead – it’s a given. I HATE that! There’s got to be a middle ground between being psychotically focused on worries about my body and denying death completely. Shit. It’s hard being human, as I tell my boys.

Today, driving home from dropping Seth and Owen off at their other mom’s, I watched a guy crossing the street. Just a kind of schlumpy white guy, in a puffy jacket, maybe in his early forties, long-ish untidy hair. I caught myself thinking very briefly about his death, but suddenly, almost despite myself, I began thinking that there are things in his life that bring him such joy. I tried to imagine what they might be – probably sipping on the coffee he’d just gotten from Dunkin’ Donuts was a happy thing for him, for instance. The next person I saw, I thought the same thing – her life is filled with many, many joys, small and large.

What a relief. What a blessing. What a life!

Published in: on February 26, 2009 at 9:57 PM  Leave a Comment  

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