It sounds worse than it is.
I discovered a little over a year ago that I have a benign brain tumor.
We found this out when I went into my doc for my annual physical.
Her: How’s it going?
Me: Great! Although I must say that I’ve been feeling a bit dizzy lately, and have had some funky tingling on my left side.
Her, scanning my lab numbers: Well, I don’t know that I’ve ever said this to anyone ever before, but your blood pressure and blood sugar make me: I think you need to eat more sugar and eat more salt! And you are drinking that glass of red once a day, aren’t you?
I love my physician.
Not only because she prescribes sugar, salt, and wine, but because she is also eminently careful about me. So to be sure, she thought we should do an MRI, and it was then that we saw this little thing called a meningioma, or meringue, as we call it so that it won’t sound so scary.
So we’ve been monitoring it for a over a year (the dizziness, by the way, probably was related to my awfully darn low blood sugar and pressure, and the tingling in my arm is probably from schlepping my 9 year old boy on my left arm and hip), and it hasn’t done a thing…until the MRI of a month ago revealed that it is growing.
Just a teensy, weensy bit, a millimeter is all. But the thing of it is, you see, is that it has decided to position itself right on my optic nerve and right beside an awfully important blood vessel.
Leave it to me.
And if we don’t get it, I will lose my vision, at least in that eye.
So when the neurosurgeon says, “Because of where it’s located, I’d prefer not to operate,” you say, “Alrighty then.”
Option B is radiation, which is now Option A and what we’re going with as of next week.
But again, because of where it’s located, we can’t just strap me in and zap it with rays of unvarying strength and shape.
The doctor explained to me that I had to get a very detailed MRI and a C-T, so that he can exactly map where the meringue is located. Then he needs to give that information into a computer.
With that info, the computer says to him, “Clearly, on the basis of the information you have given me, we need to set up x# of rays and direct them in such-and-such a way.”
And the doc says to the computer, “Ah, but you’re forgetting that there’s that blood vessel, there, and that the tumor is a little thicker here.”
And the computer says, “Sorry. Let’s modify it so that these rays are shaped differently than those, and that the ones on the top will receive 100% strength whereas the ones on the left will be only 75%.”
And so the doc and the computer go back and forth until the doctor is completely satisfied that given the information available, and in an imperfect world where tumors grow in the first place and then grow in very inconvenient places, he’s got the best plan of action before him.
I thought of this little exchange when I stumbled on another nugget from Martin Marty’s being-fazed-out periodical Context (this time in April 2010, Part A, in “Taken Out of Context). He culled a piece from Kenneth Minogue on wisdom (you can find the full text of Minogue’s entry here, and it is worth reading. He’s a retired professor of government at the London School of Economics).
The real secret of wisdom….lies in judging which rule is appropriate to which situation….Wisdom has one great advantage over technology: Namely, the wise adviser is responding directly to the person being advised. Wisdom is supremely situational. The essence of wisdom thus resides in a sensitivity to how universal and general propositions are related to the character and circumstances of the people involved.”
(After citing this, Martin notes that his son Micah comments “As to the source of wisdom, numerous people are credited with the phrase, ‘Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.'”)
This notion of situational wisdom terrifies some.
But it remains that a brain tumor is not a brain tumor is not a brain tumor.
Goodness knows that I have learned that a brain injury is not a brain injury is not a brain injury.
And I’m going to venture that the same can be said for most things of consequence. The broad is not the same as the specific.
Rules are necessary; I understand that.
But all too often, people become subject to the rules, rather than the rules being subject to the people. We become computers rather than artful physicians.
Wisdom recognizes that poignant matters require a deeper awareness than mere facts.
Many languages note a difference between knowledge of information and knowledge of relations. German offers us the word wissen for factual knowledge, and kennen to refer to acquaintances. French distinguishes between savoire and connaître for the same, and Spanish uses saber and conocer.
Hebrew is lucky enough to have the fantastic verb yada (which, rumor has it, inspired George Lucas’ naming of Yoda) for knowledge. It’s the one in place where we hear that, for example, Adam knew Eve.
It’s that kind of knowledge. Intimate, trusting, perceiving, believing, engaging, acting.
That’s wise knowledge, and awfully specific. Eve was not Eve was not Eve (presumably…were Adam to have had other options….hmmm). Let me put it this way: Yada refers to a relationship between particular people, and in that way is exclusive and specific and unique.
Such a proposition brings us to interesting places: Does God’s “opinion” ever change? Can it be that what is right in one place is wrong in another? How are such interpretive decisions made and by whom? And can it be that God in God’s infinite wisdom is made manifest in distinct ways to distinct people in distinct places?
I do believe that we do not live in a computer. I do believe that life is messy, is complex, is vibrantly colorful, and that it takes discerning wisdom to know in the Hebraic sense how to maintain the tension between the broadly true and the specifically so.
I’m sure glad that my oncology doc agrees, I’ll tell you that!
What do you think?
As a post-Enlightenment thinker about a confessionally immutable God, I was shocked in seminary to see that in Genesis 6, “God was sorry he made humankind,” and in Exodus “God changed his mind” about what he was going to do to the apostate people of Israel, in response to Moses’ prayers. And of course, there’s the lovely phrase of Alfred North Whitehead, “The fallacy of misplaced concreteness” when we mistake the theory, principles, and rules for the actual things that happen in the world. If Jesus’ Incarnation is as we declare, special and particular, then it means that something changed there for God, too. God apparently is much more nimble with change, particularity, and wisdom than we are.
Blessings, Anna. Radiation is miraculous, but like anything really important, terrifying and energy-consuming. I will pray specifically for you.
A nimble God. I like that. But then again, I always like what you write.
Why do you think that the texts which deal with God’s ability–and willingness–to change aren’t preached or taught often?
I think I agree with what you are saying about wisdom and knowledge, but it is hard to concentrate in light of the brain tumor. No blossoming or flourishing for it, may it wither and perish, without harming you and your beautiful mind. Shalom.
Thanks Erika, and thanks also Kirsten.
Always a tension between hope and that sacred pissiness I wrote about a few weeks back.
But really, it is all good, and I am thankful that it is not worse than it is, and that I have a good doc who is striving to make this go away.