Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Being in the listening/talking business, I feel like I've developed a dependable view of civil discourse's boundaries. 

For example, people generally say they'd rather not talk about death. It's morbid, icky, a total bummer. That is, it's taboo. To break the taboo is to risk being considered one of civilization's discontents. If that describes me, so be it, but I'll persist in it since it's a source of unending fascination and in any case a universal certainty.

Some folks with cancer have noticed that the "C" word is also widely taboo. Interestingly, as a powerful conversation ender, it can be used to one's benefit.

A friend who has cancer told me, "My social club came at me again. The president called to ask me to work the desk all next weekend. I told him I couldn't because my brother will be visiting. He said to just leave my brother home. Then I told him I'd too tired to do it, and he asked why I was so sure of that. There was no shaking him. Finally I had to play the cancer card. Told him my tumor was acting up, which it is, a little, maybe. Or could be. Anyway, he apologized and got off the phone fast."

Is that okay to do?

I used a similar ploy a year ago. I was soaking one early morning at a hot springs. The sun was rising over a silent paradise, and there wasn't another soul around. Then a big guy in a ten-gallon hat lumbered in.

"Hi, how you doon?"

I smiled and offered a pleasantry, hoping he'd move on. But no.

"Been here long? Where you from? How's that water, huh?"

I said, "I don't mean to offend you, but I'm on a silent retreat. I'd rather not talk."

He held up his palms. "Hey, that's cool. Nobody has to talk. Tell me, can you stay overnight in this place? What's it cost?"

"I need to let you know why I'm here," I said. "I have a terminal condition."

I don't have cancer or any illness, as a matter of fact, only the condition we all have. But hearing this, the guy was poleaxed. Like my friend's club president, he couldn't handle it. He tipped his hat and walked rapidly out.

If you play the "T" card, let me know how it turns out.

1 comment:

  1. I've played the C card. Love it, trumps everything. I do NOT play it with other survivors or patients. To me that would be arrogance.