Thursday, February 11, 2010

Revelation at the Food Court

Yesterday I took my Daughter shopping for khaki pants, a required part of the Character Choir outfit at the elementary school she attends. She started to get a bad headache and needed something to eat, so we went to the food court at the mall. It was about 4:00. If the world, or even our household were run according to her clock, this would be dinner time everyday. She's not very hungry in the morning, but when she comes home from school, she's ready to pack it away. Give her a nice big serving of ice cream at 6 or 7 pm and that would be a perfect day! She was in the mood for orange chicken--the kind you can get at any variety of Asian counters at the mall, with fried rice and a St. Louis specialty called Crab Rangoon. She was in heaven--eating just what she had imagined the day before when we planned our shopping trip.

I had a good-sized lunch and wasn't really hungry yet. But Daughter and I were leaving for church at 5:30 for Acolyte training and would miss dinner at home. I seemed unable to pass up a plate of food even though my body didn't seem to need it at the moment. Next thing I knew, I was sitting across from her with my own version of grilled Asian chicken, steamed rice and vegetables.

I asked my Daughter how she was doing --it had been a hard run with grandpa dying just a few months earlier after a long battle with brain cancer; I had re-constructive surgery from breast cancer just before he died; we still missed Grandma who died two years ago from dementia--was there anything she wanted to talk about? How is she feeling? It turns out she was worried about her other grandmother--my mother--Nana, who has liver disease. How long will she live? Why is she sick? She was waiting for the proverbial other (or in our case, about the 7th) shoe to drop. So many bad things had happened, one right after the other; one on top of the other. Who can relax?

I tried to explain Nana's disease as best I could and tried to encourage her that she is doing quite well. Morfar ("grandpa" in Swedish) was healthy and doing well watching out for her. I looked down at this plate of food I didn't need, didn't want and that didn't taste all that good. There was a pause in the conversation. I wondered, why was I eating it when I wasn't hungry?

The answer came to me like the fried rice sign flashing above the food court counter: I am racked with anxiety. I am trying to push the anxiety down and away with food. It doesn't seem to be working. In fact it makes it worse because an unhealthy diet and weight gain causes more anxiety about the recurrence of cancer. It's a vicious cycle.

Perhaps I just need to ask myself the same questions I am asking Leah: Is there anything I'd like to talk about? How am I feeling? I know one anxiety is the burden I feel at saddling my Daughter with the increased risk of breast cancer, and the compulsion I therefore feel to keep her physically active and eating fresh fruits and vegetables. Another anxiety is wondering if I am leading a life of significant impact and meaning and working on goals I have set. It's a version of survivor guilt--am I living a life that is worth having survived cancer? As I let these and other anxieties bubble up into the light of day, I can look at them and find ways to address them so they lose their destructive power.

I wonder how often it is true that the questions we are asking others are the very ones we need to be asking ourselves.

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