It is Monday morning, a gray dreary day outside, below freezing temperatures, a threat of snow later today. The Bears lost yesterday in a game that was so bad I decided to turn it off and do something more productive than just sitting around watching a team self destruct. Sounds depressing, yes? Well, not so much. I also watched a flock (or is it a gaggle) of Canada geese foraging in what was a corn field undisturbed by the weather, the dreary sky, or the misty rain that fell all day yesterday. In addition, my wife and I attended a Chanukah party hosted by Rabbi Mendel and his wife at the Elgin Chabad celebrating the light that each one of us brings into the world as a healing force, a force for good. So goes a tale of lived-experience. Sometimes things are rosy and other times they are bleak but nothing lasts forever.
Over the past several days I have been battling a rash and a mind numbing itch resulting from a reaction to the adhesive in the steri-strips used to close the wounds from my prostate surgery. The itching has been constant, keeping me awake at night and causing me to be cranky with others. I am treating the rash and itch with cortisone creams and over the past several days the rash is diminishing and the itching is mostly under control. Progress!
Additionally, I am struggling with incontinence, a common side effect of radical prostatectomy. On the first day post catheter removal I filled up my adult diaper to the point of significant discomfort six times. On day two, Saturday, I only required five changes and yesterday that number dropped to four. Progress! Last night I slept through the night with a nearly dry diaper, got out of bed with no additional leaking and made it to the bathroom to urinate normally. Progress!
Levinas warns against the self retreating into its own interiority when facing issues of pain or suffering of any kind. Because one’s focus is on the pain or, in this case, the constant, painful itching, little, if any, room is left for seeking the exteriority of the other. Yet, one cannot afford the luxury of sinking into one’s own self, into the isolation of the interiority of self-pity, and remain an ethical human being.
Sometimes, sinking into the depths of interiority is absolutely unavoidable, the loss of a loved one comes immediately to mind. The profound sadness, in this kind of a situation, is not only expected, it is entirely appropriate. This interiority lasts for a few days and is soon replaced by a return to a relatively normal lived-experience. To sink into the interiority of pity because of a rash or a normal side-effect of surgery is, however, self-defeating. In these kinds of situations one’s primary obligation is to accept the condition as existing in this very moment and the consequences of that condition as the final outcome and then working to find relief. In my case, I treated the rash with cortisone and read everything I could get my hands on regarding post radical prostatectomy incontinence. The rash is getting better and I now know what to look for in terms of progress with the incontinence.
By adopting treatment and knowledge, while the immediate conditions may drive me a bit nuts, I am also adopting an attitude that simply won’t provide the space for me to take the plunge into self-pity. So I can turn off the Bears game, tolerate the Winter weather, take solace in the industry of the Canada geese foraging for food in the rain and celebrating Chanukah with others. To my mind this is a simple formula of making oneself present for the other, to recognize one’s existence in the company of other human beings focused on bringing light into the world.