From Shinto by Jorge Luis Borges:
When misfortune confounds us
in an instant we are saved
by the humblest actions
of memory or attention:
the taste of fruit, the taste of water,
that face returned to us in dream,
the first jasmine flowers of November,
the infinite yearning of the compass,
a book we thought forever lost,
the pulsing of a hexameter…
When I was well into recovery, my oncologist had asked me how things were going. I broke into a litany of complaints about my job, the economy, car trouble, the heat, and on and on. He stood back a bit, smiled, and said “When you don’t have your health, you have one problem. When you do have your health, you have many problems.”
When faced with the diagnosis of cancer, your vision becomes exceedingly narrow. Your world shrinks into treatment times, side effects, medications, frustration and worry about recovery. But there is a point when you move from a highly distracted point of view to something a bit more focused. And that’s when you begin to discover the smaller things you’re surrounded with always taken for granted.
The taste of sweet or salt, to read a book, to enjoy the company and comfort of devoted family and friends becomes highly prized and sought after. The revelation for me came one morning, about two months into recovery at home after everyone had left for work one morning. Watching the morning news, I saw some footage of a line of red lights on the expressway, creeping their way towards the bridge. I could sense the frustration of the drivers as they sat in their cars in their rush to work, the radio tuned to the traffic reports, the steam from the cup of coffee in the holder rising over their drumming fingers on the console. Yet, those were the very things that I wanted at that moment – to trade places with them, to listen to the radio, to sit quietly in the car on the way to an appointment, to enjoy that cup of coffee. To have an ordinary day.
There is no doubt that the very roots of our existence are shaken with a cancer diagnosis. If there’s any lesson to be learned it’s that our time here is finite. That the things that are enjoyed are ephemeral. Maybe that’s why I picked up a camera again nearly 40 years after putting it down. To be able to capture that essence of a moment, that smallest detail that catches my eye. Because, after all, it’s really those small details that are most important, that make us most human.
The saying goes “don’t sweat the small stuff”. But do pay attention.
[h/t to David Kanigan for the lead into the poem…]