Monday, August 3, 2009


April 2, 2008

I have a friend who has gas. This alone isn’t all that unique except that she is so honest about it. Once when she came over, she had let one rip and at the same time I had picked up the baby. I remarked to the baby in my sing-song baby voice, “S.t.i.n.k.y baby! You stinky little thing!” My friend sheepishly admitted, “ahhhh, no, that would be me!” I was stunned because what I smelled clearly was the collective work confined in a diaper that only a baby can produce. Alas, I was indeed mistaken and the foul odor came from my friend. I was completely horrified to think that I had been in fact calling her a stinky baby! She, however, took the whole incident in stride, which I found beyond impressive. I kept thinking about how I would feel if I had been her and I’m certain I would have been crushed. I know I would have been completely embarrassed and humiliated. My girlfriend, however, didn’t seem to be either. She was apologetic but fully accepting and honest about her ‘gassiness.’ Talk about literally taking the stinkier side of oneself and just going with it! I found this incident a wonderful example of honesty and humility and because of her and others like her I feel committed to walking a straighter line.

I have received several emails over the last 10 weeks remarking about the honesty of my emails and I’ve been thinking about it deeply. You know that I made a promise on January 15, 2008. This promise to be honest was an awakening of sorts because it forced me to admit that I’m not always honest and I want to be. I’m also raising children who I hope will be honest and I must not only teach them this skill but model it as well. This was my opportunity to begin my practice of understanding the nuances of honesty in order to learn how to be a more honest, more humble, and more genuine person.

Ever since January 15, 2008, I’ve been replaying our hospital stay and my reactions and conversations during that time. One of the stinky realizations that I have had to own is that I have a side of me that is a flirtatious brown-noser. In my more immature years, I quite innocently and perhaps even unconsciously flirted my way through life, flaunting my pretty little self, hoping to get my way. I don’t think I was very genuine in those times and certainly didn’t spend any time trying to understand and dissect my behavior in a way that would elevate my confidence. When I was in my early 20’s, however and heading into graduate school, on probation no less, something changed in me. I realized that I was in the big leagues and no amount of cutesy flirting was going to get me the grades I needed to stay and the only way I was going to be taken seriously was if I began to take myself seriously and have an honest focus on what needed to get done. It was here that my journey toward truth and honesty really began.

Old habits die hard though and when I think about that time in the hospital with Aria, I felt forced to stare my sincerity in the face. I remember meeting a nurse when we were first on the inpatient unit. She was so sweet and gentle with us and I wanted to be equally as nice and considerate but I kept wondering why do I feel the need to be nice and gentle? All I wanted to do was lie down on the floor in a massive heap and cry. Why was I trying to be-friend this nurse? Did I really think we were going to be friends? What did I want from her? Was I trying to manipulate something here in my favor? These were some the questions rambling through my mind. I didn’t know it then, but what I was doing was bargaining. We were moved to a different room a little later on that was much more spacious and I wondered why they were being so nice to us. The completely shattered and insecure part of me was suspicious thinking that we must be in really bad shape and they feel sorry for us. I know it sounds crazy but I really did have those thoughts. I actually came out and asked the night nurse if we were in this special room because they knew we were going to be in for a really long haul and they wanted us to be as comfortable as possible. I was trying to be strong and brave when I asked her but I felt like such a child with a quivering lip trying to hold back tears. Mary, our nurse, paused and looked at me so tenderly. She held both my arms and said with such warm reassurance, “You are in this suite only because it’s available. There may be another family that comes in that will need it more than you and we’ll have to boot you out!” That humorous ending felt like eating what I thought was going to be a bitter pill but was instead a Pez. I trusted her and took my first deep breath.

The following days in the hospital were on one hand very clear and on the other hand a complete blur. I remember clearly wanting to know everything that was happening and why. I was constantly asking questions but trying not to hover. I also didn’t want to be suspicious and I wanted to trust that the medical team caring for Aria knew exactly what to do but I questioned them nonetheless and I made certain I understood every single detail of her care. I didn’t always understand in the moment, however, and I allowed myself plenty of time to process information and formulate questions as they came and ask them whenever I could. I was constantly aware of my tone and my mood because I never wanted to come across as abrasive or make anyone feel defensive. I just didn’t have the reserves for that kind of energy or interaction. I wanted everyone to get along and I desperately wanted everything to be ok. There was only one nurse with whom I felt little connection and I avoided her from then on. It was so odd. I was so aware of wanting to be perceived as a good person and I kept asking myself “why?” The truth of the matter was simple. In the back of my mind I couldn’t escape the manipulative irrational thought that if I was positive then so would be Aria’s outcome. Once again I had 2 voices in my head going back and forth. There was the quiet and subdued rational mind and the crazy head that was trying to function upside down.

“That nurse was so sweet! She spent so much time answering my questions.” rational mind would say.

Crazy head responded, “You should do something for her! yeah, do something! Bake some zucchini bread for the nurses!”

“I’m sorry, did you say zucchini bread?” rational mind sputtered while images of a bake sale fluttered by.

“Yeah, if you do nice things, they’ll like you more and maybe Aria will get extra attention!” crazy head said firmly.

Rational mind was suspicious and cautiously said, “Extra attention? What are you talking about? Does it matter if they like me or not?”

“What, are you nuts? Of course it matters! They have to like you...” crazy head retorted

Rational mind interrupted, “They have to like me? What if they don’t like me? Oh, my God! Right. They have to like me. Wait! Wait! Wait a minute here! How did this become about me?”

“You’re the mother! You can make things happen! If they like you, everything will be ok” said crazy head fading.

Rational mind spoke deliberately, “You can not change what is happening. You are not in control! They like you or they don’t. You are not what matters here! Focus. You can not change what’s happening by being nice, flirtatious and sweet. You can not brown nose your way toward a different result. For God’s sake, just be real!”

Be real...I began to chant which suddenly turned into breathe...breathe...breathe...
There it is. I was trying to bargain my nice-nice for some kind of magical outcome for Aria. All those years of silly sunny manipulation slapped me in the face. I went to the bathroom mirror and I told crazy head “Turn yourself around and right your world for this new normal.” I told rational mind “Be yourself. Be sincere. Be honest. Be all those things you want from others and above all things be kind.” I blew myself a kiss and turned out the light.

This was a pivotal moment for me because I really wanted to explore being certain that all of my interactions were sincere and without expectations. I kept thinking about Carol King’s song “Beautiful”.
You got to get up every morning
with a smile on your face
and show the world
all the love in your heart.
And people gonna treat you better
you’re gonna find
yes you will
that you’re beautiful
as you feel.

I have enjoyed that song since I was in elementary school. I believe every line to be true. I became focused on making sure that all of my emotions were kept about me and no one else. If I was feeling insecure about not understanding a procedure, rather than begin a conversation that was defensive and suspicious, I always prefaced my dialogue with phrases like, “Please be patient with me...or I’m feeling really insecure right now...or I could use a little reassurance about.... or I’m sure someone explained this to me already but I’m still confused.. and so forth.” It made me feel more relaxed to do this and strangely, it gave me a sense of control. I couldn’t control what was happening to Aria and I was devastated by that. But I could control my behavior in all of my interactions and I wanted those exchanges to be beautiful for purely selfish reasons. I was suddenly surrounded by completely ugly, foreign, scary, circumstances and I needed beauty, kindness, gentleness and consideration. I felt strongly that in order to get that from people, I would have to be that myself. There’s that saying, “treat others as you would like to be treated.” The sing-songiness of that sentiment makes me want to keel over but I can’t ignore its inherent truth. What I’ve had to be certain of, however, is that my positive cheerfulness is without expectations. I don’t want to be manipulative. I just want to be real.

In attempting to be as transparent and honest as possible I’ve drawn a very important conclusion. It doesn’t take much strength or courage to be honest but it requires tremendous strength and courage to take it. When we received Aria’s diagnosis, the world as I knew it became warped, convoluted and unfamiliar. No amount of bubbly goodness was going to have any influence on the horrific blow we had received. No silky bows or glittery sprinkle was going to lighten the worry we now possess. The truth of Aria’s leukemia has been the heaviest weight I’ve ever had to carry but I have the strength and the courage for it. So you see, the process of being honest about Aria has paled in comparison to receiving the truth about her fate. We all know that the truth can hurt and I’ve never known greater anguish but what I was spared was the pain that so often accompanies honesty in its manner of presentation. Dr. Trobaugh told us the truth about Aria with the softness of a rose petal and the gentleness of a lamb and the tenderness of a mother. It was an extraordinary experience and it is with that in mind that my journey continues. I hope to learn how to refine my sense of honesty and ability to be truthful. More importantly though, I hope to learn to express and share it with others with greater compassion, reverence and respect. It may be a little easier to take that way. ~j

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