Saturday, December 24, 2005

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0030 - Pay It Forward

My youngest son and I experienced the crazed, frenetic pace of last-minute Christmas shoppers in their cars today, some of them driving without any consideration at all for pedestrians or other drivers. We, too, were out doing some stocking-stuffer shopping before the crowds were too thick and cursing the rude and ridiculous alike as we struggled simply to get in and out of mall parking lots. But then, in an almost Dickensian moment, a kind of Scrooge-gets-Christmas episode, we experienced first-hand something which Catherine Ryan Hyde called Pay It Forward.

We had promised to buy tins of Tim Horton’s decaffeinated coffee and hot chocolate. The line-up of cars was one of the longest we’d ever seen. But there was one driver who had obviously made a mistake and not found the end of the line. He was waiting patiently but probably hopelessly for someone to let him into the line-up. On a whim, I motioned for him to cut in before us. Then, when we finally got to the window to pay for our tins, the clerk told us that the gentleman in the car ahead of us had already paid for our order simply because he appreciated us letting him into the line.

A little while later, while getting breakfast in another drive-through, we decided to “Pay It Forward” for the person in the car behind us in the line-up. We didn’t see if the driver was as pleasantly surprised as we had been. In both cases, what we experienced was rather mundane, simple examples of actions which were “beyond ego”, a kind of affirmation not of the triteness of Christmas spirit, but of something more akin to “hey, we’re all in this together.” It was, however, a transitory moment.

Later, as the day progressed, I fell back into a funk that was totally dependent on ego. Yesterday, as we spoke with the radiation oncologist, I asked about possible side-effects of radiation on sexual function. The answer I received was that, although the radiation might not have much effect, the surgery would probably do long-term damage to sexual function by damaging nerves. Last night and again throughout most of this day before Christmas, I wallowed in self-pity with ego-driven thoughts of myself, the “guy who might never have another erection.”

There really isn’t anything wrong with grieving loss of sexual function…nothing at all. But when the ego pushes aside truly transcendent moments which come from a place beyond ego, then we need to do something about that. Ego is good. Ego is fine…in its place. Cancer is bad. Cancer sucks. But neither ego nor cancer is the real point of the journey, after all. Pay It Forward moments remind us that not only are we all in this thing together, but that the tragedy of cancer is, in its own way, an opportunity to move beyond ego. I hope I can remember this lesson.

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