Last Saturday my Kindle broke.
Yes, Amazon will fix it – for free. Yes, the new one arrives today. But at the time, I thought, really, universe?! If you’re going to suck my whole life down the drain doing things I really wish I wasn’t doing, couldn’t you at least have left me with my Kindle?
Yes, I know. This is one of those first world problems. For a list of more first world problems, join me on Pinterest. My board ‘words to live by’ has an excellent – and hilarious – explanation.
But, though I’m ashamed to admit it, the loss of my Kindle did mess me up.
I was re-reading The Hunger Games.
Yeah, yeah. I know. I know! I’ve heard it from all of you. People I gave the book to said, yes, this was entertaining but predictable, or I liked it, but it just didn’t grip me like it did you, or – my favorite – I hated the ending, she picked the wrong guy.
Others who followed my recommendation were aghast that I could tolerate – even praise – a story about kids killing other kids.
When they put it like that, yes, it did sound horrible.
So I thought I better test my first impression. This week I poured through the electronic – then hard copies – of the trilogy. Despite my best efforts not to get involved, it gripped me even more than the first time.
Perhaps I desperately needed an escape.
Maybe I was just able to think deeper about the issues involved.
But if this book isn’t a comment on the disparity between first world and third world problems, I’m not sure what is.
Those in the glittering Capitol stress over ridiculous standards of fashion and beauty.
Those in the stark districts worry about whose child will die in the annual Capitol-mandated fight-to-the-death on live television.
It doesn’t help that the districts’ children’s deaths are seen as Capitol entertainment.
The privileged few are consumed by pleasure. The rest are absorbed with survival.
I have spent most of my life as part of the privileged few. Even now, under more pressure than ever before, I am still part of the first world. My biggest daily trouble is having time and energy to make dinner.
But I have enough food for that dinner.
And if I didn’t, I could go down the street and get it. I could press a button on my iPhone and order it. I could call up a friend and ask them to meet us somewhere for dinner.
I have spent the last weeks and months complaining – internally or externally – about everything that’s going wrong. Yet it’s only because I have so much experience with things going right that I can even recognize the difference.
Perhaps that’s what’s happening to us right now. Perhaps that’s why it hurts so much. We are being plucked from our reckless pursuit of pleasure. We are being taught survival skills. We are being trained for a battle we don’t even know.
We spend our days doing what we need to do. We go about our lives. And we wait.
Monday we saw our family doctor. David’s electrolytes are low. (Those of you in medicine will understand that a potassium of 3.2 can cause atrial fibrillation all on its own). He’s lost fifteen pounds in eight weeks without trying. He’s far more worried than he used to be.
The last week I’ve seen a version of my husband I never knew before. He resists closing his eyes for fear of what he’ll remember. He hates bedtime. He doesn’t like the dark. Instead of scoffing at danger, instead of saying, what could possibly go wrong, Lana, and don’t be silly, that’s never going to happen, he’s far ahead of me in anticipating the worst-case scenario.
The thing is, I know exactly what he’s talking about.
I spent the first part of this week angry that I now manage my own internal battle with the possibility of death as well as his.
My friends who have shared this experience – a scary phone call or a sick husband – haven’t been sick themselves.
That’s the way it should be, I’ve thought. The sick one should have a healthy one to care for them.
Except… because I fight the same thing he does, I know exactly what he’s talking about.
I know what it’s like to think you could die at any moment. I know what it’s like to fear the next phone call or set of test results. I know how it feels to wait in a doctor’s office for news that could change your life.
I’ve learned that I have something I may never fully beat. In fact, it might beat me.
But I’ve also learned how to fight back anyways.
These past few days, I’ve been flooded with emails, comments, and messages. So many of you have said, I know exactly what you’re talking about – I know this anger, this desperate search for grace under pressure. Even more of you have courageously told me your stories, your battles with dark – at times uncertain – opponents.
I can not express the privilege it is to hear your stories. They remind me we are not alone.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor; If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help him up.” – Solomon, Ecclesiastes 4
They also remind me why I loved The Hunger Games so much.
(I’d say spoiler alert, but seriously, if you’ve not read these books yet, you’re probably one of the ones who doesn’t want to, so…)
With only six of the original twenty-four tributes left, the Gamemakers lead Peeta and Katniss to believe they both have a chance to make it out alive – if they’re the last ones standing. Moved by the possibility of going home, Katniss gives up her independent fight to nurse an injured Peeta back to health. As they wait out a violent storm in a temporary shelter, each risks their life to save the other. As a result, each also takes turns being not the healthy and the sick, but the healthier and the sicker. The healthier keeps watch. The healthier stays ready to defend.
Meanwhile, they wait for the battle to resume.
When I found this spot in the story on Wednesday night, I grabbed David’s arm. We both laughed out loud. This is us.
As we wait for our battle to resume, we take turns being more messed up about it. The healthier helps the sicker. Then we switch.
And we wait.
We wait for David’s blood test results. We wait for the results of his twenty-four hour test. We wait to hear if he has an adrenal tumor, hyperthyroidism, or exaggerated electrolyte imbalance.
We wait for his cardiac treadmill test on Monday afternoon. We wait for more than a week after that to hear its results. We wait to know if he has an electrical problem, muscle injury, or neither. We wait to see if anything can be done about it.
Somewhere in there I’ll have to find time to get my own blood work done. I’ll wait for my own results. I’ll wait for my oncologist to tell me if I’m a little more alive or dead this time.
But the point is, not only do we have virtually unlimited access to all the health care we both need, neither one of us does this alone.
Yesterday I found one the now-frayed, nearly ten-year-old programs from our wedding. At the bottom we’d quoted from the same passage I mentioned above:
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
David and I both laughed at the irony – did we know this was going to happen? – then he said:
I never really understood you until now.
I grinned back at him.
It shouldn’t work like this. We’re both so overwhelmed we should be snapping at each other far more than we actually are. And while that still happens, very much, there’s this other thing that’s happening too.
We understand each other.
Too often all of us keep our real stories hidden from each other. We give each other edited versions of the hard parts.
While we need to be judicious in who we let witness the unvarnished truth, I think our emotional isolation sometimes does us more harm than good.
If we were to crack that shell, even just a tiny bit, to the right people, we might find that we’re not so different from them. We might find that there is more than a few of us who have tackled impossible odds.
We might find there are many, many others who thought they didn’t have a chance, but fought back anyways.
We could find that our tales weave together into a powerful story. We could build an arsenal of shared survival skills.
We might become the community of the overcomers.
Do you want in? I think there’s room.