Friday, July 13, 2007

In Good Taste

I just read that as some people age, their tongues lose the ability to taste bitterness. I think that happens in our emotional lives as well. So the older we get, the less bitter we are about life.

But of course this doesn't happen with everybody. I'm always shocked and saddened when I meet patients in their seventies and up who have been carrying a grudge for some fifty years or more.

It seems that having cancer can make old grudges float to the surface like so many dead goldfish. I recently saw an elderly man who said that forty years ago he found his wife with his best friend "ten toes up and ten toes down." He recounted this experience with such anger and venom, it was as if it had happened yesterday.

After a while we got around to talking about what it would be like if he could let go of his bitterness. He looked shocked. "Why would I want to do that?"

"Because then you wouldn't have to carry around that poisonous anger."

He shook his head and muttered, "Ruined my life."

It was as if he was carrying around a little old ratty blanket covered with filth and burrs. He didn't want to give up the familiarity of the blanket in exchange for the release of his pain.

He didn't have many friends and had successfully alienated his kids. As his son later told me, "Who wants to be around a toxic waste dump?"

I don't mind losing my ability to taste bitterness because it increases my ability to taste the sweetness of Life.

I like to think that it's a gift of aging.