A metaphor for my life. And in case you missed the subtlety of the message, I can’t seem to get out of my own way. I am, in many ways, my own worst enemy. Part of it is that I’m so busy watching myself on the giant screen in my head and judging what I see there and what I expect or fear others see there, I miss lots of good stuff. It also means I hugely underestimate people. And again, not to put too fine a point on it, I miss out.
I told three people about my surgery this week. Uncharacteristically, I have been very hush hush about this whole surgery thing (with the distinct exception of this blog, which tells unknowable numbers of complete and total strangers). I generally err on the side of the Dalai Lama (who says one of his shortcomings is that he is too transparent, too quick to tell all). I’m a talker. In telling these three people I have literally doubled the number of people who know about my surgery. The most interesting thing to me here is that I have gone to such lengths, with great forebearance, to not tell people. When in the end it seems, I would have been surrounded by love and support, held gently and accompanied instead of judged and criticized. Who knew? Ok, ok, Suzanne knew. But I didn’t believe her.
I first told Bea (a semi made up name). She’s a woman about 70 who I have come to know through the volunteer chaplain training I am part of leading. Bea is herself a lesbian. And she is one of those walking histories of the gay movement, having lived through some of the worst of its growing pains and coming out. So while we were talking about GLBT aging, I said something about “my partner”. Bea quickly corrected (in the way of a gentle reprimand) that I have a wife and that many people have fought hard to provide me that distinction and that I should start using, owning, the word. We got into a conversation about how old fear habits die hard and we each shared some of our shame and internalized homophobic anxiety. And for some reason, feeling safe as if with a loving parent figure, I told Bea about my surgery. She could not have been more supportive. She clapped her hands together in front of her mouth and her eyes glistened as she blinked. After she thanked me for trusting her enough to share, she told me how happy she was/is for me. She said in no uncertain terms that I should view the surgery as a huge gift and that I should allow myself space to feel both grateful for such a gift as well as deserving of it. The gift I get. The second part, so much harder for me. But I will honor Bea by working on it. I have already made an appointment for before my surgery to immerse in the mikvah (Jewish ritual bath).
Joy (also a semi made up name) is someone I work with. She’s an administrative assistant who works hard, has a relatively unhappy marriage, and two terrific kids. Joy is the epitome of a friend. I have never met someone so devoted to, thoughtful of, actively engaged with friends as Joy. Joy has noticed a change in me of late. As I said, it is not my nature to not share (every fleeting thought that crosses my brain). She’s been sending me emails, text messages, and leaving voice messages wanting to know what I’m hiding, what is going on. I warred with myself about telling Joy. She has been a true friend and we have been there for one another over the last several years. We have shared incredibly intimate stories and emotions. But I was certain she would never understand this. I fully expected her to say something like, “what?! you’re cutting off your breasts?! are you crazy?!”, in that gentle compassionate way she has. I fully expected her to not get it in any way shape or form. But I also felt I owed her some sort of explanation. I care too much about her and she has been too persistant in wanting to know what is going on.
As opposed to Shirley (someone Joy and I work with and yes, another semi made up name) who said, “if you don’t feel like sharing, all I can say is, ‘ good luck with that ‘ and I hope it all works out for you whatever it is” and she has never asked again.
Anyway, I digress. I went to Joy’s office and told her all those things about her being a good friend and deserving of an answer and my fears that she would not “get it”. And then I told her. She was quiet immediately, but only briefly. She looked at me thoughtfully and said, “I get it.” There was a bit more silence and she continued, “I get it. I can see you need this. It’s just who you are. It’s you. So, when is it? I want to be there. What is it you’ll need?”
I was shocked and so happy and felt my connection to Joy deepen and I was and am so very grateful. And we talked and laughed and cried. And Joy even shared something of her own shocking news with me. But I will leave that for her to blog about.
And lastly I told Maisy (still another and the last of my semi made up names). As unlikely a pair as we are, Maisy and I became fast friends about 10 years ago. I say we were unlikely because, when Maisy came to work she had never had a Jewish friend. She’d never met a lesbian. We still laugh about how exotic and alien my everyday life seemed to her. And yet in these 10 years Maisy and I have commiserated about our children, our spouses, our homes, finances, families, dogs, cars and co-workers. We have shared our fears, buoyed one another’s hopes and held the other in grief. But still, so different is Maisy’s life experience, (she once asked me if purple was a gay color and if it was, why) I was sure Maisy would be shocked, confused, horrified and bewildered by my desire to have surgery. I had absolutely no intention of telling Maisy. But last week when she asked about my summer plans and I hesitated and then she remembered that I was taking a few weeks off, she pressed me.
In another aside… when my beloved clinical supervisor, whom I trust, love and feel deeply connected to (whom I also have not told about the surgery) said, “so yeah, you’re not going to be here for a few weeks. you never said what you’re doing then…” I, without hesitation responded, “yeah, I never did say.”, and changed the subject, having made it abundantly clear that I was still not saying.
Anyway, back to Maisy. I was faced with the same kind of question, but something about the look on Maisy’s face, I couldn’t lie or skirt the issue. I said something like, “I’m having surgery. No one knows. Nothing is wrong. I’m ok. It is elective. I don’t expect you to get it…” and I trailed off. Maisy looked at me with that innocent look she sometimes has, without judgment, with raised quizzical eyebrows and made a karate chopping motion with both her hands over her breasts. I was stunned. How had she guessed at that?! Clearly, she didn’t even have the words for it, yet she knew. I stammered my shock, asking how she possibly could have guessed that and then, more composedly, I asked if she thought I was nuts. She shook her head no she said, “I don’t know how I knew. I don’t think you’re nuts. It doesn’t seem nuts for you. It just makes sense for you, for who you are. It just makes sense to me.”
In my speechless state, I turned and left Maisy’s department. The words, “yes Maisy, I’m going to karate chop my breasts” playing teasingly in my mind. I was giddy with relief. And shock. And curiosity. And much gratitude.
Note to self: stay out of my way.