In retrospect, I should have predicted how bad the damage was.
After more than a year of chronic pain, inability to digest much, vomiting blood, and severe loss of weight and hair, I should not have been surprised by the damage in my gut. When the time cam eto take out the scar tissue that had made my digestive tract impassable I made quick peace with that decision. What shocked and upset me was the collateral damage: lots of the intestine ear the stricture was so beat up from the effects of the obstruction that some would have to go, and some would have to rest, which is how I ended up with a temporary ostomy in the months between my bowel resection and my wedding.
I keep coming back to that experience as the country grapples with the rot in so many of our systems. The pandemic has shown us that we need institutions. But we need them to be healthy and just.
American individualism might be a popular idea, but the truth is we live and work in systems, connected in ways we may not see or choose. Years ago I wrote this about the sex abuse horrors in the Catholic Church:
Our “we” also includes sinners, some wicked and some misguided. That makes the rest of the “we” hang our heads for while, maybe even for always. Allegiance to a group – no, love for a people, comes at a terrible, terrible price: the stain of those whose sin betrays us, and the pain of those who bear the brunt of their sin.
That was my start at making peace with the fact that I, who had committed no crimes, still had to make sacrifices for the rot in my institution. It took me ten years to get to that point. When something rots, you can’t just patch it up. You have to destroy a bit to make it whole again.
Right now my fellow well-meaning white people want to know why we have to be uncomfortable, or take a back seat, or make sacrifices because of what we see as “other people’s” sins. But you can’t isolate the cracks in the system. They are permitted to occur, and then they spread, and there are no simple fixes. There’s usually a price to be paid for the necessary repair.
By the time I made it to surgery I had let things go too long. Why? A combination of a hidden and unpredictable disease, wishful thinking, misunderstandings and bullheadedness. I paid for it.
The longer we wait the more painful it becomes. Pay attention. Listen. Accept reality. Understand that sometimes health requires that things be removed, rearranged, or at the very least be given a rest until everything can be stitched back together.