On My Absence from Blogging

14 Dec

Right around the first day of Chanukah I realized I would not create a blog post before the close of the Thanksgiving weekend, thus breaking a streak of weekly, and sometimes daily, postings since early October.  I recognize that to many of you (probably all of you) this is not really a big deal.  My blogposts are hardly the type of thing people wait for all week, as opposed to, say, a new cat video on YouTube or an episode of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians!”  Nor is my writing streak particularly impressive.  I mean, I think I’ve done a good job, but it’s hardly the same as, say, Cal Ripken, Jr.’s 2,632 consecutive games for the Orioles or even Eli Manning’s 150 plus consecutive starts for the Giants.  Still, while it may not seem like a big deal, I actually found my inability to post something, a little dispiriting, a kind of defeat.

An overreaction on my part?  Perhaps, but my failure to post, last week, is, in some sense, a failure to feel.  Let me see if I can explain.

From the second I was first incorrectly told that I had cancer, every moment of my life felt acute, heightened, important.   Every instant felt precious, irreplaceable, filled with power and meaning. On the negative side this meant that every day was filled with crises, a new test, a new result, a new phantom pain that confirmed my dire health outlook, and a new and foolish Google search that explained why I would die very soon.  To be sure this kind of heightened living is stressful and difficult. Oftentimes it was hard to make sense of my feelings.  And so I would write a blog post to help get my head around the challenge.

Ironically, my very real belief that I had cancer and would undertake treatment very soon also produced some remarkably salutary outcomes.  Every second of my life was an opportunity to do something better than I had before—to eat better, to exercise more frequently and with more focus, to meditate and pray more deeply, to look at my wife and daughter with greater love and appreciation in my heart, to feel more empathy for those in need, and to write with greater sincerity and honesty about all of it.  I tried to live my life like there was no tomorrow, or at least like there were far fewer tomorrows than I previously anticipated.  I tried (and continue to try) to reform myself both inside and out—not an easy task for me.  My family can attest to my hesitance to (or even fear of) change.  And with every new attempt at reform, every effort to be more open to the world and its possibilities, I would write a new blog post.

Something changed about three weeks ago.  Sufficiently distanced from my new diagnosis, and still quite a ways off from my next round of tests in January, my sense of acuteness began to feel chronic instead.  My once heightened awareness of life and its challenges dulled a bit, becoming more commonplace, more typical, and certainly more mundane.  I still worked on my reformation project, but my efforts lacked the kind of focus and zeal I had felt even the week before.  My enthusiastic efforts to meditate twice daily soon devolved into a decent enough attempt to at least get one 15 minute session in per day.  My morning prayer, which I had felt so deeply most of the fall, became somewhat routine. I felt my empathy and sympathy, my sense of connection to those who suffer for whatever reason, diminish. And my efforts to think and write about my health, future, thoughts, and feelings seemed less important. This despite the fact that just two weeks ago my writing was the most effective tool in my effort to stay sane and sanguine.  It felt (and still feels) like I don’t feel strongly enough about anything to take the time to write about it. And so I haven’t….until now of course.

I know what’s happened.  I’m experiencing a kind of “feeling fatigue.”  It takes a great deal of mental energy to live every day like it’s your last, or at least like it matters more than the day before, and that kind of effort is rarely ever sustainable.  Eventually, one day begins to feel very much like the last, and soon I am back into a routine….a better routine thanks to some of my reformation efforts, but a routine nonetheless.

To be sure, I know people who seem to possess an endless stream of intense feeling and compassion and who seem to spend every day inexhaustibly doing good for people around the world.  Nothing is ever routine to them—at least that’s how it looks from my perspective I am thinking about a number of congregants from my former synagogue whose depth of earnestness is extraordinary (and a little exhausting), or some of my students who have forgone high paying careers to, instead, serve the public good.  Sadly, though I seem to lack that mental willpower to do the same.  My zeal is earnest, but it inevitably has a “Use By” date.

I’m trying to extend that date, though.  I’m doing my best to inject some sense of the acute into a rather chronic existence. And the acuteness does begin to grow. As November turns into December, my January scan becomes a looming reality rather than something that will happen in the distant future. The past two weeks have been a kind of ebb in my reformation project and now, as I work on this blogpost, I seem to be developing a flow again.  The problem is, I really shouldn’t have to face a possible illness in order to improve myself.  I need to become better at certain things just for the sake of being and feeling better.

Shortly after learning that I likely did not have cancer, I was talking to one of our docents about how that news was a shock to my system.  I had spent the past month preparing to be treated for cancer and now I had to prepare for something else.  The whole experience left me drained and oddly let down.  I was ready to take on cancer but not a seemingly endless unknown future.  The docent set me straight right away.  “Nobody’s ready for cancer, and nobody wants cancer, Erik.  Just be thankful.”  He was right of course.  No one wants cancer.  I surely don’t, but I do want to feel like I am as motivated as I possibly can be to improve my life.  I have taken steps in the right direction.  Now I just have to learn how to maintain that sense of purpose without the threat of cancer.

Weird and a little whiny, I know.  Still, it is my reality, and I need to address it.  Getting back into the blog helps.  Hopefully a little less time will pass between this post and the next.

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