Friday, September 3, 2010

The Fourth Trimester and Beyond

Griffin Patrick O'Connor is exiting the "Fourth Trimester". I was made aware of this term by Griff's namesake and maternal grandmother Virginia (Griffith) Brenner. Mom Mom Brenner is a child development professional and she helped me contextualize Griffin's dynamic changes.

The little man had spent the first 40 weeks of his life in a darkened cramped space gaining nutrients from his mom so finding balance outside the womb hasn't been easy. He's learned how to digest, burp, and grow muscle (through "tummy time" see photo). His emergence ex-gestate demands patience and awareness. I think breaking experience into a paradoxical phrase like "fourth trimester" appropriate to the human condition.

I like to consider that I am no longer on the verge of my 42nd birthday but instead am approaching my "168th trimester". It's more accurate somehow because it demands a shorter time-horizon where forecasting can be modified when life gets in the way. I don't have to make a fallacious five year plan but only need to get through the next 3 months.

There seems to be a tendency to accelerate our personal experience along a Cartesian plane up and to the right but time often doesn't cooperate with our imagined development. We craft stories and biases that bring ignorance to life's randomness. It doesn't matter that I have a 165 trimester jump on Griffin because what I predict to happen this next year probably won't. One only need to look at the roller-coaster sine wave generated by recent financial expectations to realize that any consideration of hopeful prophesy is bullshit.

This is known as the "Anosognosic's Dilemma". Something is wrong but we don't know what it is. It is the unknown unknown. Errol Morris did a good series on the concept in the NYT this summer. I recommend it. We all labor under the failure to recognize our own functional defects. One only need to watch early-round footage of "American Idol" or witness my son shake his fist at his morning farts to know that the surprises of being human are often rude and painful.

Six weeks ago Mom Mom Brenner was told she had a mass growing in her uterus and blood work indicated a high cancer probability. We all hoped for the best but surgery showed us that we didn't know what we didn't know. There were two growths. One the size of a grapefruit and one the size of a baseball. Both malignant. All this happening in a clean living woman who could stare down Jacob Marley and get him to give up his chains with indefatigable optimism.

The biopsy turned our hope for a "Stage 1" diagnosis upwards to "Stage 3C" and deflation.

Mom Mom started chemo-therapy two weeks ago with her hope intact and a willingness to issue faith as a hedge against microscopic fast growing cellular activity. That seems wise but her sickness does not inspire me towards anything but humility and gratitude bound by stoicism.

I recently re-read Thornton Wilder's "Our Town". I did so because my memory of it is reduced to the 1980's Pepperidge Farm commercials, bucolic and sentimental but earlier this year I listened to a talk given by the playwright Arthur Kopit where he referenced the play as an existential wonder of failed American optimism. I never saw it before but the third act reversal is the "Anosognosic's Dilemma" dramatized. Emily post-mortem returns to the living only to realize that trivialities too often upset meaning and she asks the Stage Manager, "Do human beings ever realize life while they live it? Every , every minute?" And the omniscient stage manager says, "No."

I have no wisdom in relation to my mother-in-law's cancer or my son's growing independence.

I stare at both and surrender any hope to make meaning of either. I'm trying instead to be simple and recognize that my anticipated future will be changed by the next moment and the next and what I think true of myself in perpetuity will need to modify itself to my encroaching trimesters.

I don't know what my necessary adaptations will be but am comfortable knowing that what I consider strengths probably aren't and the surprise of living the human condition will reveal more, (or less, who knows).

1 comment:

Gandolf said...

Hey Chuck young Griff sure is real cute.Thanks for posting the picture

Some things in life are crazy with randomness and rather strange too, sometimes i think you only do your own head in, if you try to understand everthing..I think maybe i already mentioned my dad never ever smoked or ever drank a drop of alcohol either,and always worked extremely hard, plus went to church every single day of the week! including worshipping all day on sundays (Sun4-5 meetings, first one starting at 6am).

And then died from bowel cancer aged only 38 just before my 2birthday ,near about 47years ago now.Guess i was really that scary! huh ...tee hee :)

Thankfully they have come a very long way since then with all the new meds and treatments.Now days its not just chop chop .Until they near chopped all you got.Im thankful for science and scientists and the Doctors who devote their life to such learning.We dont know everything and maybe we never will,but the moment we stop even trying to learn is the moment all our children have less possiblities available for use in the future.

Anyway my friend all the very best wishes to you all !, from NZ