Her poems are both sobering and searching. As written, her poems were not intended to condemn, but rather to encourage us to chose the right and to invest ourselves (and others) in ways that fulfill the promise God gave each of us. They help us to discover the wholeness of our life, heal the hurts and make us loving, compassionate, merciful, serene and joyful. For someone who suffered so much, her insights to the works of God was outstanding. Her poem Guests is particularly haunting.
Pain knocked upon my door and said
That she had come to stay;
And though I would not welcome her
But bade her go away,
She entered in. Like my own shade
She followed after me,
And from her stabbing, stinging sword
No moment was I free …
When I read Jennifer Spangenthal’s compelling opinion piece titled A Fortune 500 company hired me to help them be more family-friendly. Then my own kid got cancer, I immediately thought of Ms. Nicholson. In essence, Spangenthal argues that ‘humanity needs to return to corporate America, for the sake of both employees and employers.’
Ms. Spangenthal’s argument isn’t new. After accepting a job at Unilever, she thought she might have found the role that would help her achieve the elusive work-life balance. However, a couple years after joining the company, her child was diagnosed with cancer and subsequent cancer treatment altered her daily life. However, after her leave of absence, she received a common ultimatum: return to work full time or resign.
Her experience is by no means isolated. Many … like her … like me … work and reside in parallel universes. By day, in waning hours of daylight, we go unnoticed, at work, completely in pain, complete in our suffering, complete in our tears. At night, we muddle through repeat episodes of television, medical bills, medications, physical therapy … unnoticed, completely in pain, complete in our suffering.
My health care summary tells a brutal story.
Retrolisthesis of the L4 on L5, L4 on L5 and L5-S1 degenerative disks, demyelination plaques in the spine and brain (Multiple Sclerosis), severe left neural stenosis at C3-C4, degenerative disease at C5-C6, osteoarthritis at C6-C7, and heart disease, with evidence of a silent heart event (i.e., heart attack).
No one knows. My employer has no knowledge. to avoid being recorded, I buy medications from Canadian pharmacies, my wheelchair never appears at my employer. I move in constant pain. I grit my teeth, bear the pain, endure the battle.
By chance, I was able to re-watch the movie My Life Without Me. One day, Ann, collapses and goes for a medical check-up, where a clinician informs her she has terminal cancer. Determined to shield her daughters from the truth and at the same time take control of her life and to make the most out of it, Ann tells no one.
Like the character Ann (and I beg to extrapolate, like Ms. Spangenthal), I am often burdened by my secret, yet somewhat liberated in that in spite of my disease and pain, I have been led to unexpected places. Still, I forge ahead at work, listen to complaints of the common cold, a broken finger, stubbed toe, ungrateful spouse, dumb this, dumb that. All the while I smile as volatile emotions simmer within. And in this balance, I recognize that as a Buddhist, I have the power to understand, examine and fully live my own life.
For the very reasons to which Ms. Spangenthal experienced, many fail to disclose chronic medical conditions and hidden disabilities for fear they will be labelled, treated differently or jeopardize their future career prospects. As a consultant, I’ve too often heard the boss only wanting to know that the job is done, without hassle.
In Buddhism old age, illness and death are acknowledged to be inherent in life itself, so Buddhists will generally appreciate frankness about diagnosis, the effects of treatment and prognosis. No one is—or should be—required to divulge their medical condition, whether that be to family (even immediate), friends (even close), or to colleagues.
As mentioned in a previous post, 90 per cent of people over the age of 65 die of one of six chronic illnesses: heart failure, cancer, lung disease, stroke, dementia and diabetes. If your genes bless you with long life, I suspect you too will suffer and succumb from one of these illnesses. One day, you too will meet the Angel of Disease. As such, you are presented frontward, will the scales of justice remain blindfolded in objectivity, in that your worth be meted out objectively, without fear, favor, regardless of money, wealth, power, or identity? Will the scales remain balanced for you?
In light of the passing holiday, the classic A Christmas Carol forewarns all:
“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge.
“‘Business!‘” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands. “Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
The chain Marley forged wasn’t imposed by a God in the afterlife. Instead, his chain, as well as ours, was created of our own “free will.” Remember then … employees are not commodities. We are assets. And real work-life balance is important. Oftentimes, it’s critical.