One of my favorite sci-fi books of all time is Dune by Frank Herbert. In one of the early riveting scenes, Paul Atreides, son of Duke Leto, is given the test of the gom jabbar by the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam. Without going into the details of what the test is – you will have to read the book — the purpose of the test is to know if Paul is human. If Paul is not human then he is an animal.
I wrote in yesterdays post about my wife’s surgery to remove a rare cancerous tumor in her abdomen, and what it means to be a mensch, I was surprised that the word had to do with being human. It had me think of Dune. If we are not human then we are an animal.
At work the other day one of the Executive Assistants pulled me aside. She wanted me to know that many men in my situation, (she knew that I had come out as gay and separated from my wife over three years ago), would not have stood by their wives as they went though weeks of navigating a rare and challenging cancer. She told me that it said something about who I was as a person. “You are a good guy,” she said patting my shoulder before walking away.
As I sit here writing in the hospital waiting room with my son, my wife’s parents, and her sister, my wife is six floors up in surgery. They are about an hour and twenty minutes into what will be a three to four-hour surgery. It is a strange emotional place to be.
I have the utmost confidence in the surgeon and his ability to successfully remove the tumor. I have more worry about how much the tumor has continued to grow since the last CT scan nineteen days ago. I worry about the possibility that the tumor metastasized over the last nineteen days. I worry about how many organs the tumor has invaded and will need to be removed. I worry that my wife’s recovery will be difficult and long.
As I look at myself these past seven weeks I know that I could have done no other but to jump in and help in any way I could. It was not a matter of loving my wife. I do not love her in the way I once did. I see her today as an old and dear friend. We have a son together. Her family, and particularly her parents and sister, were always kind to me in a way that I have tremendous gratitude for. But I have no interest in resuming our marriage in any way. I now have a partner of almost two years and I have loved being with him, caring for him, being physical with him. He is my life now.
Straddling these two worlds, my old life and my new life, has been a strange journey. I never expected to be part of my wife’s life and her family in the way I have been since her tumor diagnosis. I never expected to feel the closeness again with my in-laws and sister-in-law the way I did before coming out. I never expected to be close to her brother at all, but we have worked together to navigate my wife’s cancer in a way that has had me respect him in a new light.
Helping my wife and her family navigate this challenge, to me, is what it means to be human; what it means to be a mensch. In an age of animal behavior from people around the world, including the new leaders of the United States, it feels in some way like being human is an old fashioned ritual. For me, it is the right ritual, the right way of behaving.
So we sit and wait. We expect to get a brief update in the next 10 minutes, but she still has another hour or two in surgery. After the surgery, we will meet with the surgeon to debrief. After surgery, she will be at least an hour and a half in recovery. It will be a very long day before it is over.