“How are you doing?” I was recently asked by an acquaintance.
It is the functional equivalent of saying, “Good morning,” as no one really expects or wants the answer to the question if it’s other than an automatic, “Just fine.”
Then, there is the list.
My brother is a wonderful man. I treasure our relationship which has none of the complications that can exist among brothers, as there are brothers in my own family that will not speak with each other. My brother and I do not have that type of relationship. We are different, my brother and I. Both of us are type A personalities except when we are around each other. Since he is my older brother, I am fortunate to be capable to divert to type B when we are together. He occasionally delves into type B himself, since we both have different strengths and weaknesses, recognize that, and move into and out of the different personality types as we assess the different types of talents and expertise that are required for a specific task and who best has them. We seldom butt heads, but there are the occasional differences. When we have them, I usually defer to my brother. He is a good man with a good heart, and is seldom wrong…just usually preferring a different method than me of approaching the same task. We have an excellent symbiotic relationship. We both win!
Then, there is the Monday morning ritual. Always genuinely concerned about me, he asks, “How are you doing?” He is wanting good news, but I sometimes have no good news. I sometimes have no news at all. I sometimes have more news than he wants to hear. He asks me because his concern is bona-fide. There is no fault to be found in his asking. The fault is found with me, for, how do I answer that question?
A close friend called me yesterday. We love each other and admire each others talents and gifts, and company when we can arrange it, which is rare enough because of a continental difference in location. We keep up on Face Book, exchange the occasional e-mail or text message, but seldom talk in real time. Yesterday it was time to talk.
“There is something cryptic in your posts that lead me to believe you may not be doing as well as I had hoped,” she says. She can say this and I can receive it from her because, like my brother, I know she loves me and is genuinely concerned.
“I am OK,” I say, hesitant to go any further, because talking about it is so tedious, seldom serving any useful purpose. But, I cannot leave her hanging with legitimate suspicions unaddressed, making her even more skeptical of my canned response. She deserves more.
“I’m not buying that. There is more that you’re not telling me,” she declares across a thin wire a whole continent away. That wire can carry more information than we thought, it seems.
“Your Jewish mother is coming out,” I laugh.
“You bet it is. So tell me, already,” she says, no hint of a smile in her voice.
There is no escape now. Busted.
“Well, there is the list.” She said nothing, waiting for me to continue. “It is a lengthy list and getting longer. Do you want the whole list?”
“Yes. The whole list, please.”
I sigh. I detest the list. I detest reciting the list. I detest naming those things on the list, giving them more life than they already have. I detest giving them legitimacy which I do so with my own words. In speaking about them, they are no longer interlopers, like the coyotes, feral hogs, fire ants, and Kudzu that invade and pollute my countryside. When I name them they become part of me, an integral part of my existence, as if I were encouraging them with a long term lease instead of them being mere squatters on property they have no claim to. This is the power of the list. At this point, I am powerless against the list because I am required to recite it, though this one recitation will be all the power I let it have over me on this Easter Sunday, which is a day of re-birth and regeneration. Even if the list wins, which it eventually must, Easter is my reminder that it will not have the ultimate victory, as Another has fought this battle on my behalf and won it, as if my brother came to my rescue, except in this case it is my King. I swear allegiance to both my brother and my King. I do not swear allegiance to the list. It may claim me, but it will not subvert me into yielding to it willingly, nor claim me for more than a season.
I start out explaining about the list.
“The list keeps getting longer. I am collecting things, or rather, my body is collecting things with the apparent reckless abandon of a 50’s Teeny-Bopper collecting Elvis 45s. I don’t know where these new things that keep cropping up come from, except to say that they are common to those with CLL and I am not immune from them. In a wicked case of irony, it is precisely my immune system that nullifies my immunity.
“The list adds to itself almost monthly. Some new chronic thing shows up like a hobo with a bandana tied to a stick and before you know it, a Mayflower moving van’s worth of stuff belonging to the Hobo shows up at the door. I seem to have no power over the things the moving van’s henchmen bring into my home. They move in and are hell-bent and determined to stay.
“The list lengthens. The list itself demands attention. I only have so much attention, and I refuse to let the list get it all, but it encircles in ever decreasing radii, making me wonder just when the point will come when it will leave no room for me, crowding me out like a pew-jumping Pentecostal in a sanctuary full of Presbyterians. The more I acknowledge it, the more power I give it over me. I refuse, or at least I refuse while I still can. I may not be able to perpetually refuse, as some things on the list demand my attention, and all of my attention from time to time, but I am refusing, today.
“But it does not get my attention for free. I make the list pay when I can, punishing it often with such punishment as I can inflict, which is mostly ignoring it. The list despises being ignored.
“My blood numbers are remarkably good, and mostly stable though slightly inclining upward. But it’s the other things, the complications, the accessories one might say, as if there were wicked Venetian blinds, malevolent rods and brackets, and surly valances to go with those flashy curtains. It’s the curtains everyone sees and wants to know about. It’s the other things that cause most of problems that interfere with daily living. You can’t have the curtains without the accessories. I’d just as soon have bare windows so everyone could see inside, but there are those curtains, and their obstreperous allies.
“I have no answer. It just is what it is.” Having said that, I shut up. There was a long silence at the other end of the phone.
“So, what’s on the list?” She asked. After a brief enumeration of some of the list’s residents, I tired of naming them.
“Just know that there is one,” I said, “And it is relentless in its own designs. I deal with it as I am able. Some days are better than others as the items on the list all jockey for attention, some waxing, some waning, some in full retreat while others beat their drums in a time signature I cannot recognize, not resembling any music I ever heard.
“So there you have it. You have the list. You have the complete, as of this moment, list, though I daresay things are impatiently standing by, clamoring for their turn to become permanent additions. Today, I will thumb my nose at them.
“Tomorrow? Well, tomorrow will take care of itself. Today has sufficient evils of its own,” I said. I was finished.
She seemed satisfied, though no less worried.
It is a wonderful thing to be loved. It is far easier to be loved from a continent away than it is to be loved by those who see us every day, seeing our every fault, every weakness, every human frailty. For those who love us from nearby, and those who love us from far away, we are eternally grateful as we stand here on our feet of clay. We will love them back enough to spare them from the tedious treachery that is the list.
My list, after all, seems insignificant when compared to the lists of others. I have the time and the inspiration to write about mine. Others are engaged in a desperation that precludes this.
God bless them all, and those who love them, who serve them, and who treat them.
©2016 Mississippi Chris Sharp
PS: Thank you DRH, for your friendship, love, compassion, and the gift of your talents; my confidence is that they will all be ours to share even when the temporal passes into the eternal.