I recently reconnected with a yoga classmate (I’ll call her Jill) whom I met in Berkeley. We’d lost touch after I moved to Vancouver a few years ago. Around Christmas 2008, in her mid 30s with a new marriage and PhD, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. This year, she had a baby.
What a journey she’s traveled in three years. (And I figured I’d made a big change by moving to Canada.)
I thought of Jill when I read this excerpt from Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor:
Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.
It must surely transform one’s everyday mindset to journey to that other place. Without this rite of passage, we can so easily forget about our own terminal condition. It doesn’t matter whether we’re young or old, rich or poor: if we’re not facing cancer or another critical illness, we walk around blithely, obsessed about things that would mean nothing if we knew the end was near.
We all sustain less-daunting afflictions, from broken bones to migraines to common colds. Maybe little illnesses and injuries—brief trips to that other place—are just practice for the big ones that we’ll all face down the road.
Some would say that Jill’s got a lot to be thankful for. But it’s really people like me, so lucky and so ungrateful, who do.