Last week, after announcing my latest disease –a sort of Lyme co-infection parasite called the “Frye Bug,” – I asked the Monkees on our Facebook page to name him. We decided upon Alejandro. We needed something we could stop and sing. And really, you can’t say Alejandro without feeling a tiny thrill wave inside. Thank you, Lady Gaga.
The next day I received an email from a woman who has Lyme and Frye. These diseases have destroyed much of her life. She told me that I had done a disservice to people with Lyme by naming my parasite. She said making light of something from which so many people are suffering was offensive and irresponsible.
So. After three years of receiving messages from people I’ve accidentally offended, I am getting used to the drill of my reaction. It’s always the same.
I am surprised and hurt. Then annoyed, then defensive. We must go through these things, of course.
But I have to go further. Momastery is where I practice peace making. Peace making is an active, TOUGH process similar to changing your eating habits. It requires a complete analysis and rewiring of one’s knee jerk reactions. I think there’s a reason those immediate reactions are called “jerk reactions.”
So I got through my jerk reactions, which are always the same.
No one understands me.
This is MY BLOG.
This is MY DISEASE.
Well, sort of. But not really. It’s our blog, I’ve said a million times. And it’s a lot of people’s disease.
Growing Up, Bubba taught me that there are two human reactions to being physically or emotionally threatened. Fight or flight. We are wired to decide fast. Will we stay in the confrontation and FIGHT back? Or will we RUN away from the confrontation? Ignore it and leave it behind us? Cause that always works.
BOO to both of these reactions. I think there is a third option. I think in order to grow and to foster understanding and relationships among people I need to practice my third option more often.
I propose Fight, Flight, and Right. You know, because if it rhymes it means it’s true.
To me, Right usually means first- take a deep breath and wait.
Go ahead and have a jerk reaction, but not out loud. Or maybe have it with your best friend, but don’t spew it on the person who confronted you. Don’t fight. Take a mini-flight. But while you flight, think. Stay with it. Stay open. Look inward instead of outward. WHY is this upsetting me so? What can I learn from this? What is this person, this confrontation, this discomfort trying to teach me? No dismissal. No counter-attack. Slip on the shoes of the offended. Walk around in them for a while. Then sit down and take a good look at yourself from her couch.
I did all of that. And then I sent her an email immediately and apologized for hurting her. I said I needed some time to think about what I’d done and if I could or should have handled things differently. Her response to that email was so kind that it made me want to think harder and stay open longer.
I’ve been thinking for a week now. Here’s where I am with this.
I really DO understand her perspective. What if I had AIDS and was making AIDS jokes? My Lyme, My Frye- they’re my diseases, but not just mine. My condition is a shared condition, and I am grateful for that. I don’t want to be alone in this. I want to take care of the people who hurt in the same ways I do. Since I’m a public-y person now, I have a responsibility for what I say and how I say it. I want to be careful. Full of care.
AND. I also understand that people handle the brutal in their lives differently.
I use humor. It’s an approach to life that I’ve thought through carefully. I don’t take humor lightly. I believe it to be a key survival and connection tool.
My humorous approach to my disease – it helps me hate it less. I know that for lots of people, declaring war on disease and hating its guts is the best approach. It lights a fire under their precious bottoms and helps them Carry On, Warrior. But that approach, that FIGHT approach doesn’t work for me.
Ekhart Tolle said that when we declare war against anything, that other thing grows bigger and stronger. It fights back harder. I don’t really get that, I just believe it to be true somehow. And so I don’t want to be at war with my Lyme or my parasite. They will go when they have taught me whatever the hell they are here to teach me. So far, they have taught me that life is not about doing, but being. They have taught me deep compassion for people in all different types of pain. They have taught me to savor healthy days. They have taught me that I am surrounded by people who will take care of me. They have taught me gratitude. Not too shabby. I hope they’re done teaching me soon, but I know I’ve become better since the wise little bastards have arrived.
And so I don’t want to hate them. It takes too much of my energy. I will not be at war with my own body. I will keep laughing. I will joke. Because to me – laughing is not a dismissal of life’s pain, but an acknowledgement that we can live, even just momentarily, beyond pain. Laughter is proof that we walk the path we’re given any way we choose – whistling, if we’d like, in the face of perceived danger. Connecting with others through laughter is my favorite thing to do, and I will not wait until All Is Well to do my favorite thing. All is Never well. There is always something to fear. But laughter is a defiant dance in the face of fear. It’s a mocking of hopelessness. It says we are more -we are MORE – than our circumstances. This life- it is too important to be taken seriously. Our bodies and hearts might hurt, but our souls are in perfect shape, always. And laughter is from the soul. No matter how beat up the rest of our parts might be, the soul can laugh, because the soul is ALWAYS as healthy and whole and strong as it was on the day it was born.
But see, the woman who wrote to me – she did not know all of this about me. She did not know that I’d thought it through, that I’d made a decision about how I’d handle my disease. That it would be my path, different from anyone else’s. That it was not right or wrong, just mine. And she didn’t know that I understood that she has the right and responsibility to approach her disease in the way she was meant to, and that I respect and honor and CELEBRATE that. I celebrate HER- for being such a Warrior- for fighting her disease and for standing up for herself and others, even to me.
If she’d never written, or if I’d have fought her back, or ignored her – I’d never have explored my desperate need and insistence upon laughter. I wouldn’t have understood myself the way I do now.
And we wouldn’t understand each other. A crack would remain where now stands a bridge.
Peacemakers cannot be aggressive, passive aggressive, or defensive.
“We have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all times have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we have thought to find an abomination, we will find a god. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the Universe.”
-Joseph Campbell (via Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser. GREAT BOOK- thank you Monkee Dan!)
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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