Yesterday I spent the day with my mother. Mom has emphysema (among other things). We had a long discussion about how best to play the hand life deals you. It seems there are two major schools of thought where such matters are concerned.

The first school of thought is the fatalistic one. Many people, when faced with very difficult issues, are convinced that they are in the grip of some larger force – be it fate, or God, or genetics – that ultimately must prevail. In essence, they follow the path of least resistance. This is known as acceptance. My father was one person who took that approach. When he was faced with a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer, he refused all treatment except for the palliative. He would not submit to invasive tests, surgeries, or even consultations. He made his peace with the inevitable. I don’t blame Daddy. He was tired. His life had been fraught with all sorts of health challenges, as well as personal and professional difficulties. I think he was just worn out and wanted some well-deserved rest.

The second school of thought is just the opposite – self-determinism. My mom is a perfect example. At 77 she is hell-bent on wringing every drop of happiness she can from her life before she throws in the towel. She takes her medicines every day – and there are a lot of them. She refuses to take her insurance company up on their offer of a motorized wheelchair because she knows that walking is better for her overall health. (She walks her little dog Mugsy four times a day)! She shows up for her doctor’s appointments even if she has to take the bus. She is even making an attempt to eat healthy foods, which is a big deal for a woman who once lived on shrimp cocktail and hot fudge sundaes. She is absolutely fearless in her battle. I can’t help but admire her and want to emulate her courage.

There may be a third school, too, as I’m thinking about it. This is the approach that is a combination of both fatalism and self-determination. You might say that it is the “A.A.” approach. To paraphrase the Alcoholics Anonymous prayer, you accept the things you cannot change, change the things you cannot accept, and pray for the wisdom to know the difference.

Back when I was facing some pretty scary health challenges, I found that I was able to place faith in my doctors as well as my own ability to heal myself. I figured it was worth a shot to try everything that I could try, and then to trust that God or Fate or some greater force would partner up with me and take care of the rest – whatever the rest was. So I did my homework, read whatever I could, talked to different health practitioners, and tried to be in tune with my own body so that I could “listen” to what it was telling me. I did not limit my search for answers to western medicine or eastern medicine or homeopathy or supplements or acupuncture. I took a “whatever it takes” approach, while in the background of all this drama, a little voice kept whispering in my ear not to be afraid – no matter what happened, I would be okay.

Of course, nobody is entirely in one camp or another. There were moments when I think Daddy was in fighting mode and could not accept. There are moments when I think my mother is too overwhelmed to fight and becomes more accepting. And as for me, I was all over the map. In my experience, when I’m in jeopardy, I bounce around like a ping-pong ball. One day I’m up, one day I’m down. One day I’m scared out of my wits, and the next day I’m cool as a cucumber. Sometimes I get really angry and other times I’m simply grateful. In fact, sometimes it’s minute-to-minute. Whatever problems may be confronting me, I can only tackle them in tiny increments – in other words – for as long as it takes for my mood to shift. So I guess I have adapted another old A.A. adage in keeping with all of this: One minute at a time.

© 2005, Robin Munson

 Category: Robin's Nest

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