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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Terror Behind the Privileged Life

"Your fifties you have a minor surgery. You'll call it a procedure, but it's a surgery."
--City Slickers

This past Monday, a man I barely knew, apart from his credentials, was inside me for four hours. (Nobody else can claim that distinction.)

Nobody else has ever touched me so deeply, right into the very core of my living heart. I was in a drug-induced swoon, of course; I'd never have consented otherwise.

Ours was a complex intimacy: at once tender and violent; detached and as close as breath; life-giving and death-dicing. It was a charnel of blood and burning flesh. And it involved pitiless implements like needles, tubes, clamps, catheters...all the Inquisition could have wished for to bring reprobates face to face with the one true God--a God both beautiful...and terrible

I walk about now, days later, for the first time like the genuinely old man I now qualify to be--racked, stiff-limbed, sore, bruised, aching, breathless. (Oy...) Some sort of threshold has been crossed; I'm not the same guy that went in.

Meet the new boss...
This will seem a too-perfect karmic 'gotcha' to ex-wives and girlfriends, when they learn that (a) I actually possessed a heart and (b) yes, that heart was defective. About 5 years ago, I developed a condition called Atrial Fibrillation (A-Fib for short). It's a wiring problem, basically, as opposed to a plumbing problem. The nerve wiring in my heart muscles must have frayed somehow or were prone to fizzling out from birth, and began to short-circuit, kind of like a classic European sports car left out in the rain too long. This short-circuiting suddenly and without warning would, from time to time, re-order my normal sinus reggae-rhythm into something more like free-form Jazz. It feels unpleasant and a little worrisome, but is not actually terribly painful.

How frequently? I was having up to 40 such events a day. Unlike a badly-wired sports car, it won't catch fire or anything, but (and this is why A-Fib used to kill people) it can cause eddies in the flow of blood inside your heart valves. The blood coagulates, then can clot. The clot eventually leaves the heart. Then hey presto, you're either dead or wishing you were.

The schematics of privilege

The treatment is a keyhole 'procedure' called an ablation. The keyhole in question is your groin. To 'ablate' is 'to remove or dissipate by melting, vaporization, erosion'. In fact, a hot needle is used to burn the offending nerve endings, rendering them incapable of ever firing again.

It's not so much fairy lights as "BUZZ, ZAP, POP, CRACKLE"

All this you can look up on WebMD of course, and in any case, a blow-by-blow of the surgery procedure is not why I've tried to detain your attention with this post. I've written this to you because I finally, really understood something about privilege. And it's not what you might think.

If it's one thing that really boils the blood in my veins, and could turn me into a Grand Inquisitor, it's privilege. So much health, wealth, and power, so unearned, all around me, in a world where the vast majority of people have, and will have, NONE. Nothing makes people angrier than to suggest they haven't merited what they've been given, and should maybe think about giving back as much as they can, into the web of relationships that held, sustained, and favoured them. Folk will defend bitterly what objectively amount to accidents of birth: where that birth happens, to whom and in what class, what race, what complex cocktail of genetic material got all shook up to make their uniquely-coded selves...blue eyes, white skin, sound bones, cancer-free organs...

But lying on the gurney under the fluorescent light, with a spike in the back of my hand to admit the chemical oblivion of anaesthesia, I realized that nothing before in my life had prepared me for this. My health had always been insanely good, despite much tempting of fate. I'd never had to think about serious ailment or spend much time in hospitals. And I had done nothing, NOTHING, to merit that. This is why people are always desperate to protect what privilege they have. Not just that they know deep down they haven't really earned it, but--more terrifyingly--No ONE deserves most of what they get. It's all a crap-shoot.

And if it's all chance, we're in a pointless, pitiless universe, and the best we can do is protect what advantage we have in this bitch of a life.

From that defensive posture of privilege: racism, classism, sexism, the hoarding of wealth and power, and that most deformed child, nationalism.

When you see your privilege is JUST privilege, it's a terrifying inquisition demanding you confess what your ultimate meaning is. Randomness? Order? Chaos? God? Speak, man, or we'll use these sharp implements...!

As these thoughts fell into place, I found that tears were trickling out of the corners of my eye onto the gurney's clean white sheets, and to my increased shame, the big blokey male nurse stroked my hair and said, with a warm and infinite kindness, "Don't worry, mate. You'll be right as rain."

"Oh Jesus, sweet Jesus," I think I said.

And then I woke.