Resistance–Love It

Posted by on 05.03.08 | 4 Comments
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I avoided, for months, a phone call to a certain uncle, diagnosed with a horrible and rare disease back in the fall, hospitalized with acute and life-threatening symptoms over the past few weeks. I finally called him. I did not give in to what I’d been resisting. I resisted the urge to give up and give in. And I’m proud of myself. Not for calling him, but for not making up some lame excuse for not calling earlier. I resisted self-criticism, and had faith that maybe he just knows, I was too terrified to call him. Terrified of him, his sedation and excruciating pain. His dying. How can I be a doctor, I think, if I’m afraid of pain?

But then I realized something. It’s not pain that I’m afraid of, it’s phone calls. Specifically the ones that must be made in times of death, divorce, and depression- problems I cannot fix in person, let alone over the phone. I resisted, and I feel freer now, to make other dreaded phone calls, do some spring cleaning and let the air and light back in.

I said a few helpful and unhelpful things, but mostly I let him do the talking. As it turns out, I didn’t need to somehow take his pain away. This mistaken belief had paralyzed me. All he needed was for the phone to ring, for someone to take half an hour of institutional boredom off his shoulders.

My uncle sounded stronger and better than I had imagined. He is stabilized for now, but he’ll deal with a debilitating and painful condition for the rest of his life, however long that may be. He’s planning to write a book. He’s resisting sickness and infection, loneliness and despair.

The last time I saw my uncle, I believe we fought adamantly over our political views. I always hated his views, but loved discussing them with him. He’s an intelligent, highly principled person. My aunt told me that as a result of his illness, he has come to see that many of the things he once cared so deeply about just don’t matter, including anger toward those whose views differ from his. I know confrontation with death can be helpful in dissolving disputes, smoothing rough edges and putting things in perspective. But I also know that the will to fight keeps people alive and kicking.

We often think of resistance as a bad thing, a natural tendency that we try so hard through conscious living to let go of. We try to not try. And sometimes it saves us, when we learn we can just float instead of thrash around in the water.

But I honor resistance. I can fight off a cold. I can say no, though it’s often difficult to do. I can vote, because of resistance and in the spirit of it. I can criticize my government in public without fear of harassment or arrest. I can be an ally to all the men and women who still struggle to secure equal rights in our country. And I can resist the temptation to give up or look the other way, when the right thing to do is resist.

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