June 18th, 2022

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I spent this entire week wondering when I am going to wake up with COVID. I was in Austin last weekend and around a lot of people. Specifically, Texans. I am pretty good with the ol’ KN95, but my innocent Vermont immune system felt uber exposed whilst amongst the intrepid Western COVID-getters. The Austin airport alone feels like one big party, almost no one wearing a mask. Are all these people so cavalier because they’ve already had COVID? I imagine so.

Two and a half years in, it’s weird to still not have had COVID. I’m not sure if we’re technically in the minority now, but it sure feels like it.  I feel very confident that we are all going to get it, and I don’t just mean my family. I mean everyone. There are a lot of people who don’t like to hear this, and I get it. I’m not saying, “We’re all going to get it, so fuck it.” I’m saying, we are all going to get this.

The limitations of the body are constantly on my mind. 

Just today, I FaceTimed a good friend who is going through chemotherapy for breast cancer, honored to remotely join in her festive salon party to buzz her hair off. Her young son held the phone and narrated the events to me as she sipped champagne from a flute with a pink ribbon tied around it. Today happens to be the birthday of her late mother, who passed from pancreatic cancer a few years ago. The mother’s name was Joy, and I have genuinely never met a more perfectly named human. 

I teared up a bit during this ceremony, partly thinking about Joy and how proud she would be of her tough daughter, and then I was on the hook to explain to my daughters, who were present, why my friend was shaving her beautiful head, and why that made me teary.

“What is cancer?” they asked. I, a person who usually gets really into the weeds of over-explaining the science behind every phenomenon, managed to keep this one high-level for a change. “It’s a way your body can get sick,” I said. “And there are many things doctors can do to treat it. One of the ways makes your hair fall out.”

“Why does your hair give you cancer?” they asked, logically. 

“It’s not that your hair gives you cancer. It’s just a side effect of the drug.”

They had a lot more questions, of course. “Can your toe get cancer? What about your heart?”

I explained that Daddy’s daddy died of a kind of cancer called lung cancer. That one does have a cause, and the cause is often cigarettes. I am relieved to say that I long ago stopped dabbling in the odd cigarette, and my daughters really don’t know much about them. In fact, recently I caught one of them referring to cigarette butts they occasionally see on the ground as “those old smoking people thingies.”

Cancer is everywhere. COVID is everywhere. Tragedy is everywhere. The older I get, the more people get sick, and some of them die. 

Another friend recently got the tattoo “Memento Mori” inscribed onto her skin. I had never heard this Latin phrase in all my 50 years and found it very poignant:

remember you must die

I’ve thought about this poetic inscription many times over the last few weeks. It is an important truth to cling to. Memento also, that you must get COVID. Memento that your kids will get fevers for no reason. Memento that sometimes they’ll throw up. Memento that your beautiful friends will get breast cancer. Memento that you, too, might get cancer one day. Memento that most of the time, it will all be okay. Sometimes, it will not. Memento.

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One Response to “Memento”

  1. Andrea says:

    This is everything!
    Thank you for expressing my thoughts so eloquently.
    All love, a

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