No one knows what the body can do. -Spinoza

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Dread Pirate Roberts, Prawns, Mushrooms, and Personal Growth

The thing about moving is that there are SO MANY things to miss due to leaving life in the previous locale, that you don't usually realize all the various individual things missed, and instead just feel an overall malaise of loss, a kind of sedative on the excitement or interest of the new place.

This has been true for me. That it's not been particular things about my previous locale that I long for, but just an overall feeling of having let go of a lot. Interestingly, this has led to me feeling very particular longings for things that have nothing whatsoever to do with my previous place of residence, as if I either need to miss SOMETHING specific and so have latched onto particular things I've lost that aren't even current, or that because of being open in general to recognizing that I've let go of a lot through moving, I am now also open to being aware of other things I've let go of outside of the move.

Here's my main example of this odd phenomenon of my missing things.


For the last two weeks I have been really really painfully missing shrimp. I am craving prawns more intensely than I can even describe, and, strangely, I've also been seeing them everywhere. The thing is, I'm allergic to prawns. I haven't been able to eat them without getting sick for a few years now, so WHY THE HECK AM I SUDDENLY DYING WITHOUT THEM??

I honestly think that in the midst of periods of our life where we suffer so much change, everything is up for reconsideration. And so here I am revisiting my former grief over discovering I couldn't eat one of my favorite foods anymore.

My sister Paula is allergic to mushrooms. She discovered this at least 15 years ago now, but after having lived a life obsessed with them. Mushrooms were her absolute favorite thing, and she regularly worked them into meals that wouldn't have had them otherwise, and when no one else present was eating them. Then, after both blood and skin-swab allergy testing, the doctor confirmed that she wasn't allowed to eat them anymore because of what they'd do to her body. So, without even one last mushroom meal, she gave them up cold turkey. The disappointment of that is something I've reflected on a lot over the last several years--just wondering what it must have been like for her, without actually wanting to ask because of how doing so would bring up thoughts of the very thing she has to avoid.

Both my parents are also allergic to prawns--allergies that developed in adulthood. It hit my father at least a decade prior to my mother. For years after my dad would sneak a few with dinner when we were out to eat, even though doing so would cause his tongue to swell and mouth to get itchy. He would tell me that he figured if he only ate a couple he'd be fine.

About 10 years ago my dad met a good friend of mine for the first time the morning after my parents and I had gone to a restaurant for dinner. My dad had again snuck prawns into his meal but this time ate more than his usual "just a couple." The next day when he met my friend his face was hugely round from swelling due to his allergy. His tongue was a little heavy too, but he could breathe fine so he never bothered to see a doctor. After a few minutes of laborious struggle to talk with my friend over his swollen tongue and achy face, my dad finally admitted to her that he didn't usually look or sound like this but he'd eaten prawns the night before.

Wide eyed, my friend asked him if my dad had known before the dinner that he couldn't eat prawns. He responded to her that he did with a nod. "Then, why'd you do it?" she asked him. "Why'd you eat prawns if you knew they would do this to you?"

He looked at her and answered simply, "Because, I love them." he said.

She laughed.

I'd forgotten entirely about that brief exchange until this recent summer when she retold the story to a friend I was traveling with. She told him the story because she wanted him to know this of my parents in case he ever met them, but also as some sort of insight into how to better understand me.

"I was so impressed." She said. "I thought. Wow. I'm standing next to people that see what poisons them and ingests it anyway. Not to die, but to have their love and be stronger."

Her perspective had never occurred to me. I'd just figured my dad was being either stubborn, or ridiculous by eating the prawns. Reliving the image of my dad's swollen face, I can't claim I'm going to go out and fulfill my shrimp craving as he did. But I am interested in thinking on this idea--that somehow there can be a very human intersection of those three things--poison, love, and strength--that sometimes they exist together, and perhaps even demand each other. That the only way to be true to what you are passionate for, and so to who you genuinely are, sometimes might demand striking a very careful balance with what could seem a kind of poison, but when ingested rightly out of a commitment to love could actually give you strength.

Too much poison, you end up dead or uncomfortably swollen. Not enough, you're left in a kind of stasis of never demanding enough of yourself. Ingested in balance with care, and, like Wesley as the Dread Pirate Roberts, you gain strengths you couldn't have had otherwise.

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