Friday, November 05, 2004

Dear God

So, Wednesday, not long after I finished my despair-riddled entry about the state of our apparently-fundamentalist States, a friend from here in the office stopped by to ask how the party went. We chatted briefly, and I asked how his wife has been feeling.

Back story: He and his wife had to skip the party because she needed to be in Houston for radiation treatments that morning, in an effort to arrest her recently-diagnosed breast cancer.

Anyhow, he kind of gave me one of those looks. You know the look, the look that says "Do you really want to know?" And I tried to give him my best "Yes, I really do" look in response. Because given how I was feeling about the election, and the future, I needed to do something that maybe would help someone, even if it was just by giving them a second to unload.

And so he did. He told me a story, a true story, one just a day old, and it broke my heart. But when it was done, I realized that 4 more years of this Fundamentalist Idiotocracy isn't the worst thing in the world.

Maybe it will help you as well.


D.'s wife, A., was diagnosed with breast cancer about 3 months back. She's since gotten a partial mastectomy and is currently undergoing a series of radiation treaments, in Houston, in an effort to shrink some other tumors that they believe are non-malignant, but which are somewhere in the lymph system networked to the affected breast. The prognosis is pretty good, but even with insurance this is costing thousands upon thousands of dollars, not to mention the gradually increasing level of illness A. feels as a result of the radiation.

In between treatments, A. sees an oncologist here in Austin. And while attending sessions at this oncologist, A. met a young girl, 7, who we will call Gwen. Gwen was going to the oncologist for treatment of colon cancer.

When Gwen was 4, she and her twin brother were abandoned by their mother. One day, the mother just walked out the door, leaving her children alone in their apartment. There was no father in the picture, apparently, and the mother didn't do anything to alert anyone of the presence of the kids in the house. She just went out the door, and never came back.

Days went by. No one came, and I don't know why but the kids stayed in the apartment. Perhaps the locks were too high up for them to reach.

Anyway, Gwen's brother had severe asthma. And after two days, clearly hysterical and stressed, the boy had a severe asthma attack and died. Alone in an apartment, after being abandoned by his own mother and in the presence of his twin sister, this poor boy had a severe asthma attack and died, struggling to breathe.

Two days later, someone found Gwen and the body of her brother. Gwen stayed with her brother's body the whole time.

So, Gwen winds up in foster care. Apparently, she got lucky and was placed with a good family. But then, a year later, she begins showing symptoms of something being wrong. Shortly afterward, she's diagnosed with colon cancer. She's 5. The medical needs and financial demands far outstrip her foster family's ability to keep up, and they have to turn her back over to the state so that she can be properly cared for. So, she spends the next year and a half shuttling back and forth between hospitals, doctors, and a state home.

When A. met her, a few month's back, the doctors had been unable to arrest the spread of Gwen's cancer. They were now treating her aggressively, using radiation, chemo, experimental treatments, pretty much anything they could come up with, in the vain hope that one of those Movie of the Week miracles would occur. They do happen, sometimes. And what do you have to lose?

So, anyway, she and A. became friends. And a month ago Gwen asked, should she survive the cancer, if A. would be her foster parent. And A. said yes, absolutely yes, of course yes.

On Tuesday, A. went to the oncologist and then to see Gwen after her treatment, bringing her a pair of those hair clips people use for babies, the ones with the velcro backs that can attach to the wispiest of hair. So much of Gwen's hair had fallen out from the chemo that these sorts of clips were the only things that would work. So, she gave Gwen the hair clips, and combed what little hair remained on her head, and put the clips on. And after she had put the clips in Gwen's hair, Gwen said to A., her voice even and perfectly calm, "I'm going to die today."

And A. was all "Shush, don't say that, you're going to make it through. You have to be strong."

But Gwen said "No, I know I'm going to die today. I've been seeing my little brother all morning, so I know I'm going to die."

And about 7 hours later, she died.

D. says that A. is completely overwhelmed with grief and anger, not to mention all too much brutal reality for one person who is fighting to defeat cancer to be able to deal with effectively. And fuck, who wouldn't be.

So I sat and listened to D.'s story, and nodded sympathetically, and just shook my head. And after a while he said thanks for the kind words and went on his way. And I sat at my stupid desk in my stupid cube at my stupid job and wiped feverishly at my eyes for 20 minutes or so. And then I called home just to say Hi to everyone.


I remember learning in biology class back in high school how your nervous system is actually fairly simplistic in the way it deals with sensation. Basically, the strongest sensation gets all the attention, regardless of what's going on elsewhere. If you have an itch, pinch yourself and suddenly the itch goes away because your nervous system gets completely diverted to the fact that pain is being reported somewhere, and that's way more important. Basically, you can only really feel one sensation at any one time, regardless of how many things are going wrong or going right in your body.

This story was like that for me. A sharp pain that quickly obliterated a dull, mournful ache.

I won’t believe in heaven and hell.
No saints, no sinners,
No devil as well.
No pearly gates, no thorny crown.
You’re always letting us humans down.
The wars you bring, the babes you drown.
Those lost at sea and never found,
And it’s the same the whole world ’round.
The hurt I see helps to compound,
That the father, son and holy ghost,
Is just somebody’s unholy hoax,
And if you’re up there you’ll perceive,
That my heart’s here upon my sleeve.
If there’s one thing I don’t believe in...

It’s you,
Dear god.

-- XTC, "Dear God"
That song has some of the most brilliant, insightful, and ironic lyrics I've ever read. And it breaks my heart because I really, really do believe in God, but really understand where the narrator is coming from.

I want to believe that God loves us all and wants us to be happy when we're here. But when I hear about kids like Gwen, or about the classmate of our friend's daughter who was just diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor and who has perhaps a year to live (he's 6), or about the daughter of the people from who we bought our house who died of a massive brain hemmorhage (I think she was 11) just a few weeks before they sold us our house, part of me would almost prefer to not believe, to just abandon any faith I've carried with me through my life, rather than allow for the existence of a God who wants or needs or allows these things to happen.

I do believe. I do, with all my heart. But sometimes God is a miserable bastard, and I'm just outraged that he could do these things.

I also know that, when people walk around with this glassy-eyed smiling simplistic bargain-basement Precious Moments faith, with their "Angels are Watching Over Me!!!" bumper stickers and their slack-jawed belief that God spends his days trying to come up with inventive ways to reward them for their righteousness, who try to assure you with platitudes like "God never gives you anything you can't handle" or "God's hand of protection is on his faithful," I know that they are wrong.

I don't know why we're here. I really do believe there's a purpose to it all. But whatever it is, you'd have to be a moron to not realize that it's not to be happy and to be rewarded for singing hosannas all fucking day. And anyone who thinks that God doesn't intend for us to suffer while we're here, regardless of guilt or innocence or belief or lack thereof, is just not paying any attention. It's all part of it, whatever it is.

So, yeah, I don't feel so bad about the election anymore.

Mood: Dark
Now Playing: XTC, "Syklarking"

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