Monday, May 25, 2009

Nel mezzo del cammin

Over the last two weeks, I have been meditating silently on three words: uncertainty, spontaneity, and acceptance.  As for uncertainty, my reflection was prompted by an NYT op-ed on our current national economic situation, whose author noted that, "we can’t come to terms with circumstances whose terms we don’t yet know. An uncertain future leaves us stranded in an unhappy present with nothing to do but wait." 

This last sentence really struck me as it gets at the heart of what coping with Robert's various problems feels like.  From time to time, at any rate.  Waiting at the station is not one of my strong suits.  And I understand quite well that uncertainty creates the material conditions for the rotting of happiness because it, indeed, sets the world on pause, and that waiting, that stasis, leaves emotions, events, human actions to rot and rust in the situation of their own being.  If that makes sense.  If it doesn't, think of the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz hung up on his post or the Tin Man waiting for his oil.  Their condition is stasis, rot, rust, the indignation suffered by objects subjected to the attention of birds.  

Waiting is a form of rot.  But is uncertainty a definitive form of stasis?  Uncertainty might cause you or I to 'wait' because the available street lights, signs, and traffic signals are not giving us the messages we need to proceed with relative safety--or so we believe.  But uncertainty itself is a form of movement--a species of unpredictability, a capacious flux.  The path divides before us, or we are faced with a variety of symptoms or situations or possibilities, none with positive valences. Multiplicity shape-shifting before us.  We wait for the green light.  

Spontaneity, on the other hand, is also a species of uncertainty. Perhaps the arising of a pale shoot of possibility.  A mind on the look-out for a hidden path, a more interesting route.  A willingness to run a yellow light, if not a red.  

The difference is agency: with uncertainty, I might willingly cede agency to my fear of change.  With spontaneity, I am the agent of change.  Carpe diem.  

Let me digress.  A recent electronic conversation with a friend (in which I state with careless conviction that I do not believe in statistics because they are irrelevant to Robert's condition) yields the following insight (ahem, not mine): "Statistics are just another language, just more signs for things that are and aren't the thing itself. . . . His condition is an outlier. It's the thing that can't be fully explained or predicted, except that there's always something that can't be explained and predicted, a thing that in itself is predictable."

Which is, in fact, the irony of uncertainty--at least uncertainty translated into numerical data--that uncertainty itself is to be expected, a regular blip in the flux of human events.  Which brings me back to: "we can’t come to terms with circumstances whose terms we don’t yet know."  Yet these waves and intervals of uncertainty, of unknowing, are, in themselves, predictable.  So, is waiting a willing form of rot in response to uncertainty, a willing yield of agency?  

All I can say is that agency, endless agency, endless advocacy, endlessly standing against the current, will wear you out.  My weekend began this way: Robert has been coughing, a situation that can be attributed to a pattern in which he contracts a virus, recovers, and then develops a sinus infection.  The sinus infection generates a cough as he has difficulty keeping his airway clear from post-nasal drainage.  Antibiotics relieve this and stop the cough.  Except this time, our regular doctor was out of the country.  A different Attending examined Robert.  He hears a child protecting his airway, and, frankly, Robert has had an intermittent cough even in between these sinus episodes.  We are given antibiotics as a precautionary measure; however, 72 hours later, the cough is still an issue.

Now, I am lost in a sea of variables.  If Robert is not swallowing properly, if he has lost the ability to process his secretions with ease, this is essentially a sh*tload of trouble.  This will be the endless stall of monitoring a deteriorating situation.  If the antibiotic (a different one this time) takes more time to address the infection, then my worrying is for naught.  If Robert has decided that producing a cough by delaying swallowing as long as possible is an interesting sideshow he can create, then a reminder that his mischievousness will only result in unwanted and uncomfortable medical tests and attention may suffice to stop it.  If Robert is having an increase in acid reflux, which can cause a cough, then we are looking at two possibilities: an increase in medication dosage or a repeat of a Nissen fundoplication, an extremely unpleasant operation with a long recovery time.  

Uncertainty.  A failure of agency.  

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura
ché la diritta via era smarrita.

I won't pretend to, or attempt to, gloss Dante.  

But I will say that the most commonly prescribed response of the world around me to Robert's problems is that chimera, 'acceptance.' Acceptance, it strikes me, is the abdication of agency. Acceptance is sitting down in the dark wood and crying.  

I am still waiting for my guide to the underworld, and acceptance is not my guide.

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