August 29, 2002
Oh So Sorry
I'm sorry I haven't eaten more hot dogs.
Saturday is Selichot, the time when the whole Jewish world sings with Connie
Francis, "I'm sorry," and vows to do better next time. Many of us are focused on the wrongs we've done to others, or even to God.
This year, however, as I contemplate in yet a new way the impact of lung cancer, there's no one to whom I owe apology more than myself.
Yes, many of my apologies go to me. I should have eaten more hot dogs, with mustard and sauerkraut. And even more hush puppies, which in Jewish delis are hot dogs wrapped in potato knish, served best (if not only) in New York.
I know what you're thinking: you were only watching your health. But if you want a hot dog and never give yourself a hot dog, what are you accomplishing? Fear of food is, I think, a crime against the soul, the shutting down of the appetite by which we show our confidence in being alive.
For years I refused to eat popcorn at the movies. I was a college student and deemed myself too good for plebeian food. That year, a New York theater started popping its kernels and brewing its own coffee to sell with the latest Belmondo film. Popcorn brought great enjoyment to my next James Bond movie. Sean Connery is such a hunk, and I apologized profusely to myself for having missed out on the great all-American experience -- albeit without butter.
If I'm going to keep the appetite going, I have to respond to where the taste buds tingle.
Since I received a lung cancer diagnosis, I've been macrobiotic, lived on smoothies, Chinese herbs, Ensure shakes. But even before I was fanatic. I ate pasta with broccoli. Broccoli, with Vitamin C, may reduce breast cancer. I never smoked cigarettes, which is linked to 85 percent of lung cancers.
Today, when it might help, my body is in overdose. I avoid any food colored green. I'm no doctor, but any one of these regimens destroys appetite in all its meanings faster than a hot dog now and again. It's the luck of the draw. Eat a hot dog or not, you can get cancer anyway. Might as well live.
And although early on I cut out sugar and dairy, ice cream is now my dinner of choice.
I begrudge myself nothing. If you don't express your appetite, what comes next? Soon you won't have any. A friend will ask if you want to eat by the ocean, and you won't know. Soon enough, you miss the summer sunset, and the blooming begonia, and the loveliness of a child's smile. It takes will to live.
More hot dogs. More fun.
Lung cancer taught me that what we do today is fun. Tomorrow the bill comes due. Develop taste. Don't be a snob. Don't live in regret. Don't worry about where your cancer is going to come from. When you have to know, you will.
One year, when I was new to Selichot, I sent around a list. I knew what I had done to everyone. They, of course, had long ago forgiven me. But it's different to pardon myself.
At the base of the apologies I owe myself, is a youth spent trying to stay in control. I thought I had it covered. I didn't know anything.
S'lach lanu. Forgive us. Forgive me for thinking I had anything under control.
That's not the only amends I owe myself. I'm sorry I kept slipcovers on the living room couch for more than a decade. I regret that it took me years to decide to paint the kitchen, and less than a month to get the job done.
I underestimated the pleasure that comes from pleasure; that playing the piano badly is not a crime against humanity; that nothing beats the joy of making up my own mind and paying my own way.
I'm sorry, but I'm not guilty. I'm sorry for the false truths accepted and fun cut short without thought. I'm aware of hours spent trying to explain myself -- what a waste. Years spent pursuing trivial goals -- why? I was definite about ideas I knew nothing about.
So much gets squeezed on to a hot dog.