This week – October 27th 2009:
Sleepless at five in the morning, I read. In her collection, Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri tells a story from the point of view of young girl who is embarrassed to observe the large nipples of a grown woman, a friend of the family, as they try on bras together. Later this woman dies of breast cancer. There are other hints of her illness. Her husband indulges her every whim, buys first class tickets from India to the U.S., looks for a palatial house to buy, brings her a sweater when it is inconveniently upstairs, far away. This is great writing: to nudge the reader so gently toward tragedy, that its denouement is a shock. This is how cancer appears, first secretly, and then with terrible consequences.
Yesterday in the obituaries, there were four pronounced deaths from cancer, today two. Some families choose not to reveal the cause of death. One of the cancer victims has windswept hair. She is middle aged but looks young, vibrant, athletic. A scarf sweeps over her left shoulder. Though all we see is her face and shoulders, it seems like she is standing on a promontory after hiking to a high elevation. She is smiling with that look of accomplishment one has after physical exertion. Sometimes I think of cancer not as a the executioner, but as something necessary that culls the population because there are too many of us, as something as natural as breath. Other times I am filled with terror of its sudden greed.