It always irks me when someone says “You can’t understand unless…” about anything. When I was a teenager, of course, this feeling was at its height. Like all teenagers, I was certain that I knew everything I needed to know, and I did not believe in the existence of wisdom, or the value of experience. By now, I believe in those two, and have just enough wisdom to know I don’t have much of it. When I rankle at someone telling me, “You’ll understand once you’ve…” I feel the indignant teenager toss her head within me again.
Because of this, I try never to say, “You can’t understand unless…” about anything. I think human empathy can get itself around most anything. It’s largely a matter of degree rather than flat ability. Without becoming a mother a person can grasp the nature of motherhood. It’s the intensity of it that comes as a surprise when it actually comes. So too for the boredom of motherhood. And the tedium, and the exhaustion, and the adjustment to a world where the rare free and quiet moment must be wrangled from something else, carefully orchestrated, and anything but spontaneous.
My adjusted expectations allow me to look longingly forward to my drive to work, teaching my night class. A cup of tea, NPR or an audiobook, and 35 minutes of mindless, quiet highway stretching before me is, very often, a highlight of my day. I am very rarely alone, and never doing absolutely nothing, so my Tuesday morning this week was a remarkable island of meditative calm: I had a thyroid ultrasound. Ultrasound rooms are dimly lit, and generally warm, and ultrasound machines do not make any clanking or whirring sounds, so it’s also quiet. I lay flat on my back while a very kind technician, Jennifer, swept the sound waves over my throat. I never remain still unless commanded to, or asleep. Having been commanded, I remained motionless, staring up at the patterns in the ceiling. I wanted to see the images of my thyroid, but it was not possible from my angle, so I resigned myself to stillness. The thought that I needed to pick up my kids soon was tramping around the edges of my consciousness, but I am experienced enough in the care and feeding of anxiety that I kept it penned outside. By the end of the exam, I was feeling absurdly relaxed. In my world, a rejuvenating stay in a warm, dimly lit room costs me not a massage therapist’s rate, but a co-pay to Harvard Pilgrim. And for now, I will take what I can get.
Oh, and as for my diagnosis? It appears to be simply that I am thin, and small, and all my normal anatomy–salivary glands, thyroid, lymph nodes–seem pathologically prominent to doctors who are, as Jennifer said, “used to flabby necks.” I am simultaneously pleased and saddened by this.