Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Cancer: Platitudes

As much as I am a social creature, I have a love-hate relationship with platitudes. Most people don’t realize that the question “How are you doing today?” isn’t really a question so much as it’s an acknowledgement; i.e. “I see you and recognize your presence. Let us now conduct our transaction.”

George Carlin used to riff on the word “fine” and out people would sort of bleat it out when they say it, suggesting they are anything but. Now, I know Carlin was doing a bit and it was funny, but those platitudes “How are you?” and “Fine, thanks,” are actually a kind of social armor, as well. It’s that verbal handshake that keeps you from really getting an earful: “Oh, let me tell you, my corns are killing me,” or “It’s so hot I’ve got jock itch,” or “my wife has cancer, you bastard, stop smiling at me!”

No one wants to hear that. Not me. Not them. “Fine,” then, has become a great way to not have to get into it with a total stranger who might very well be sympathetic to my situation, but could just as like turn it around by saying, “You think you’ve got it tough? My brother’s head fell off the other day,” or some more ludicrous one-upmanship story.

So, people ask me how I’m doing, and I say fine, and that’s that with that.

And then an epiphany hit me like a simile:  When “thoughts and prayers” are aimed at you, they suddenly become very meaningful. I admit, I didn’t like to use those particular aphorisms when comforting a friend or family member, mostly because of the frequency with which they are thrown around. They may sound hollow from a distance, but up close, I realize maybe it’s all people can say in the face of a horrible and complicated situation.

Don’t feel bad about offering that up, if it’s genuinely meant. From where we are at the moment, it’s refreshing and nice. In addition to thoughts and prayers, we’ve received good vibes, healing energy, peace, love, Reiki, Thor and Odin (unclear if it's Marvel Universe Thor, or Norse Mythology Thor), all the gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt, and Bill Murray. I know some truly wacky people. But it’s appreciated, because I know it’s genuine and sincerely and earnestly intended. Which, it could be argued, takes it out of the category of mere platitude.

Never mind. I think I just solved my own problem.

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