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Lions Roar : November 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2011 66 can’t find a little room in their heart to forgive Big Al? Sure, he ran one of his generals through with a spear during a particularly touchy evening of drinking, but then he cried for three days until his soldiers begged him to come out of his quarters. (Yes, the Macedonian camp did occasionally resemble the set of Days of Our Lives.) So really, Big Al was not all bad. Even the invincible Alexander eventually had to accept defeat—not by another army but by his own men. On the banks of the Hydaspes River in India, years away from home, the exhausted Macedo- nian troops had enough and they refused to go far- ther. Alexander exhorted them; he blamed them; he scolded them. If the historian Arrian is to be believed, he tried every trick in the book. One can almost see him, this short, intense man with the leonine hair and the wide, staring eyes, pacing back and forth on that riverbank in India, sweating in the heat, crying out in a voice pitched to be heard over the racket of battle: “Stand firm. You know that hardship and danger are the price of glory, and that sweet is the savor of a life of courage and of deathless renown beyond the grave.” One gets the sense that the soldiers looked at each other and muttered, “There he goes again. Honor and glory and all that shit. I just want to get home and see my wife.” Needless to say, they turned around. Back they trundled toward Persia, a journey they all wished to forget as soon as they completed it, for they lost more troops to the horrors of the Gedro- sian Desert than perhaps in any major battle. There, facing rebellion among his troops, he asked them, “Does any man among you honestly feel that he has suffered more for me than I have suffered for him? Come now—if you are wounded, strip and show me your wounds, and I will show you mine. There is no part of my body but my back which has not a scar; not a weapon a man may grasp or fling the mark of which I do not carry upon me.” A T THE TENDER AGE of fifteen, I examined my milky white skin. No scars; not even the least blemish. “God, have I led a boring life!” I thought. I wondered what it would be like to have a scar, to have been wounded, to feel pain. It didn’t really occur to me that it might lead to anything more profound than bragging rights, my own small share of honor and glory. If I were in India with Alexander, would I have wanted to go on? I thought of him when I woke after my surgery at Mayo in August. In pain, confused, groggy, I did not know what had happened, what parts of me were missing, how long I had been in surgery, if my prog- nosis was good or bad. I was lying in a hospital room with wadded cotton balls stuck up my nose, pumps working my legs to prevent blood clots, and bandages encasing my tender stomach. I could press a small black button any time I needed morphine to dull the pain. Tubes wound out from my stomach bandage, siphoning off the excess fluid from the surgery, a watery ochre color. My parents arrived and held my hands, kissed my puffy cheeks. I had been in surgery for six hours. I had these things stuffed up my nose. I cracked a smile. “It’s my new look,” I whispered. Dr. M appeared several hours later. He sagged against the far wall, his face gray, his eyes dark with weariness. They had begun the surgery using the Da Vinci laparo- scopic technique, but a sample of my left ovary proved to have microscopic cancer cells. They had been forced to cut me open and remove everything, including the lymph nodes and my appendix. Hey, at least I’ll never have appendicitis, right? It took me a while to gather the courage to look at my stomach once they removed the bandage. But really, it was not so terrifying. Nine inches long, snugly sewn up, it would have been less alarming but for the crusted blood and the tubes protruding just above my hips. No part of your body without a scar, huh, Alexan- der? He never had a hysterectomy. If he hadn’t attacked people, he would never have had a scratch; whereas my body attacked itself for reasons that still lack expla- nation. My battle went on silently, inside. My stom- ach has not been mauled by a lion’s claws or enemy arrows, but rather by the surgeon’s scalpel. Instead of perpetrating the darkness of war and violence, I have had to journey down into my own inner darkness. S OME DAYS, when I had changed too much to recognize myself, I bought clothes. Some days I wrote, eking out a page here and there. Some days I played the harp. But more often I lay on the couch taking refuge in mov- ies. I imagined myself into Audrey Hepburn’s man- sion in How to Steal a Million, climbing through the armoire into the secret chamber where her father created fake masterpieces. I wanted a secret cham- ber like that in my house. I wanted to crawl into that secret part of myself.