Awareness

All these facebook statuses said “black,” and “pink,” and everybody curious was googling to find out that said color was a bra color.  Sadly, I’m too repressed to share any information about my underwear, and, were I less repressed, I still don’t think the internet would be my venue.

The more annoying part of the whole thing was hearing, later, that bra color was supposed to remind us, “make us more aware” of breast cancer.  So now my underwear isn’t private, or sexy.  Now it’s a reminder of decay and mortality.

I don’t think Americans need to be any more “aware” of cancer.  In fact, we’re the world’s leaders in finding cancer that wasn’t doing no harm to begin with, and carving it out of our bodies to convince ourselves that we can cut or burn or medicate our mortality away.

I’ve had a couple of what we like to call “pre-cancerous” nasties, and one of them I had removed.  Even that baby step to cancer was scary.  The very idea of “cancer” personifies evil for us so well.  It’s inside you.  It grows.  It’s a part of you that goes bad, insidious.  And kills you.  Some Christian theologians have given that thing a name.  We call it “sin.”  “Cancer,” “sin,” “suffering”– I think those are all names for the same team.

What I don’t like about the idea of cancer “awareness” is that it suggests that by being “aware” a person can avoid cancer.  You can’t avoid cancer with diet, exercise, or any other kind of good girl behavior.  You just might get it anyway.  It’s totally stupid.  (Which isn’t to say I don’t try to eat some basically good food and get some exercise, but that’s for my current well-being, not an investment in the future.)

We’re so anxious to believe that if we get our boobs x-rayed or eat pomegranates or something, we will not get sick or die.  I would like to believe that.   And I like that humans are so proactive and so hopeful.  It’s really sweet.   But it’s a twisting of the bedrock spiritual concept of “awareness” to suggest that awareness gives you power or control.  It does the opposite.  Awareness gives you smallness, and awe.  And, ideally, a little more patience with everybody and everything.

Maybe we do need to be more aware of how people around us are struggling, and how we don’t have all the time in the world.  Those are good things to be aware of.  Maybe we need to be more aware that more money for research could help make sick people suffer less.  And go easy on this “spray first, ask questions later” chemical routine we have going on in our fields and factories.  Sure, I’m all for that.

And maybe we need to be more aware of how we rebuff the sick and the vulnerable because they remind us of our own vulnerability.  Sometimes sick people need privacy to heal, and sometimes they need healthy people to suck it up and carry more of the load.  I guess usually they just need people to ask after them.

I’d also like to be more aware of how we’re all in this together, the cancerous and the pre-cancerous, and the living and the dead.  That is a lot more comforting to me than hoping we will fix people or cure them or help them live forever.

A dear friend of mine once nearly ruined a dinner party by musing about his “saddest Christmas,” and asking us all to recall our saddest Christmases.  We have teased him mercilessly about this, I assure you.  This last Christmas, though, was one of my saddest Christmases.  The amazing thing was that I was happy a lot of the time.

I sang songs and ripped open presents and chatted my head off and slurped down soup and drank a healthy amount of Pinot Noir.  I was pretty impressed that loving, cheerful people, and pleasure and joy and thankfulness are sometimes audacious enough to bust through grief, or worry, or cancer.  That’s a good thing to be aware of.

link to facebook/bra color story on NPR:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2010/01/facebook_bra_color_and_breast.html?sc=fb&cc=fp

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