Keeping up appearances

It’s springtime in DeKalb — windy, bright, changeable, and green. Oh, so green! Everything’s blooming. The grass grows at such a rapid rate that homeowners and landlords can hardly keep up with it, and the sound of lawnmowers provides a background hum to every activity.

As I walked along yesterday, inhaling the pollen and sneezing with abandon, I realized there must be a city ordinance requiring that the grass be cut before it reaches a certain length, for even dilapidated dwellings, their porches sagging, their paint peeling, had well-trimmed lawns. How like Americans (especially those in the Midwest), to require lawns be kept in order, but ignore the problems — like unemployment, poverty, and lack of health care –being suffered by those inside.

It is this mania for keeping up appearances that kept me silent for so long about my illness (indeed, it may have caused it). Because I had woefully insufficient health care when I was diagnosed, I could not get treatment in Utah; because I knew there was nothing that could be done, I decided I’d better not let anyone know. When I decided to move back to the States, I did not realize what had happened to it while I was away for twelve years; or rather, I’d forgotten my country does not think healthcare is a right, unlike Ireland. My acting skills, learned at a very young age, came back to me quickly, and I fooled even myself (most of the time).

But it takes a lot of energy to keep up facades, especially “my-health-is-great!” ones. My friend Omar (co-owner of my favorite restaurant, Mediterraneo) and I talked about this yesterday. I had just been for my walk, and I stopped by to tell him I’d be moving before he got back from his upcoming tour. We agreed that doing what we love (writing, for me, and ESL teaching; playing drums, for him) takes us beyond pain or sorrow, or even ill health. Truly, when you’re present in the moment — the only moment, actually, you really have — doing what you love, you are happy; you are healthy. The trick is to pack as many of those moments into your allotted space-in-time as possible, and to live and be with those people who support that.

That’s why I feel lucky. I’m going to spend the majority of my time with people I love, doing what I love to do. And who knows? Those moments, those many moments of bliss, will coalesce into what may very well turn out to be months or even years of healthy life. Freed from the burden of keeping up appearances of health and happiness, I have the opportunity to enjoy actual health and happiness. I just had to be brave enough to start telling the truth.

If I manage to keep the lawn mowed, too, that’ll be a bonus — but it’s no biggie.

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