I had a mammogram the other day. I should probably admit
that in these sorts of situations, I am really not at my best. In fact,
during routine medical tests I am so far from my best that it might as
well have taken up residence in a parallel universe.
absence of my best, I just freak out. No matter how much I know that
the lucky ones are the ones who find out bad news through regularly
scheduled check-ups, fear consumes me.
So the other day, after
the technician left me alone to go get the films developed and show
them to the radiologist, I sat alone in the hospital room, wrestling
with fear. I felt like the hapless human victim of an African Rock
python I saw being squeezed to death in a National Geographic nature
documentary the other day.
Since there were no magazines
in sight (someone please explain to me how they can’t think to put at
least an old copy of Glamour in a room where people are bound to be
fearing for their lives…), I decided I might as well try to put the
time to good use and meditate. I will say right off that I, under
normal circumstances, am a terrible meditator. No matter how much I try
to focus on my breath, I always end up attempting to perform
mathematical calculations that I couldn’t do with my eyes open and a
calculator in hand.
Here is a representative sample of the internal dialogue that took place while I was "meditating":
this is taking a long time. Or maybe time is just crawling by and it
really hasn’t been that long a time. Maybe I should open my eyes and
look at the clock. Why? Oh why? doesn’t that woman come back? Is that
the door handle? It has got to have been twenty minutes. That must mean
While I am visualizing the radiologist staring
at my scans with shocked concern, a saner internal voice emerges and
says, with a soothing practicality, "You know, right at this very
minute, nothing terrible is happening. You are sitting in a room by
yourself. That is all."
I love that voice.
Briefly, I saw
myself as I was, alone in a room in a large hospital with many rooms. I
imagined the occupants of those other rooms. I saw a woman laboring
hard to push her baby out. I saw someone take his last breath. I saw
doctors conferring. I saw the woman who checks in visitors handing out
a name tag. I saw a janitor pushing a mop. I began to feel more calm. I
widened my vision and imagined a guy I had seen at the intersection
right before I turned into the hospital parking lot. He was singing
loudly to the radio and happily banging the drum of his steering wheel.
I thought of my boys, two at school in Santa Monica and one still in
bed at home. I thought of my Mate, staring thoughtfully into space,a
finger pressed up against his temple, wrinkling the skin. I widened my
vision even farther to include my mother walking in the woods of New
Jersey, with a wintry sky above her. Farther still, I imagined places I
have travelled and saw life there too. At that moment, someone was
trying to decipher "The Churning of the Sea of Milk". A leaf rode a
mountain current over a waterfall. A farmer worked, hunched over, in a
There, on the chair in the hospital room, my lonely
present expanded to include all the life on our spinning blue-green
planet. It was enough to be, for that moment, for that present, just a
part of it all.