Because the radiologist and the pathologist and the gynecological oncologist had good (joyous) news for me in December 2008, and continue to have good news for me, I associate hospitals and etc. with health.  I’ve been thinking about this, lately.  Realizing how strange it is, how sobering.

My annual bloodwork and ultrasounds are coming due this month, and it gives me pause, to hear myself scheduling things on the phone so serenely.  To feel a kind of buoyancy, going to get blood drawn, to get a pap smear.  And for the past few years I have looked forward to my yearly ultrasounds in a really almost inexplicable way… I mean, they’re not pleasant procedures.  And the ultrasound techs generally have a way being so very absent, chewing gum, not even attempting small talk.  And yet, I check  in, I wait in the waiting room, I walk with a nurse down the hall, I get photos taken of my remaining ovary, and afterward I get in the car and go home feeling as if I have done a positive, honorable day’s work.  I usually [confession] kind of take the rest of the day off.  And consider myself, consider my health, move through the rest of the day, considering.

I will never understand why some diseases come, and others don’t, or why some have an ambition for destruction that can’t be checked, and why others respond to treatment.  Besides predispositions, whether genetic or caused by environment/lifestyle, I really don’t know how diseases make war … and (I learn, with equal amounts of relief and horror) so much of the time, doctors don’t, either.  Is this the province of an all-knowing God?  Is this a battleground between Love and Hatred?  Which reminds me again of Terence Malick’s questions at the beginning of The Thin Red Line:  “What’s this war in the heart of nature? Why does nature vie with itself, the land contend with the sea? ls there an avenging power in nature? Not one power, but two?”

And yet, this is a comfortable distance.  I’m still healthy and free of disease.  Hospitals and scrubs and the tennis-shoes and name-tags of nurses are still primarily symbols of healing, in my mind.  I approach them, still, with confidence.

But what is this war in the heart of nature.  In Africa, 11 nations are building a nine-mile wide green belt—of trees—to try to hold back the march of the South Sahara (The Great Green Wall).  The desert wants the land, apparently, and is moving, moving.  I read an article in The New Yorker about desertification and the search for solutions, “The Great Oasis” by Burkhard Bilger, who quotes a scientist, saying that “The wet will get wetter and the dry will get dryer” as the globe continues its warming trend.  Is desertification an evil, a darkness?  Is that kind of death an organized crime?  Is cancer?

More Malick:  “This great evil. Where does it come from? How’d it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from? Who’s doin’ this? Who’s killin’ us? Robbing us of life and light. Mockin’ us with the sight of what we might’ve known. Does our ruin benefit the earth? Does it help the grass to grow, the sun to shine? Is this darkness in you, too? Have you passed through this night?”

Some thoughts on a bright Friday morning, clouds scudding across the sky.