Sunday, August 06, 2017

Weekly Inspiration: Living As Usual

I recently read The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood for the first time...finally! (my review is at the link) Both Margaret Atwood and her renowned dystopian novel had been on my must-read list forever, and I was thrilled to get to it. Many people read The Handmaid's Tale in school (I am a bit too old for that; it came out in 1985), and the book has recently enjoyed a resurgence on the best-seller list, thanks in part to a new Hulu TV series based on it (which I heard is amazing) and in part to the current state of affairs in the world (many dystopian classics have been on the best-seller list recently).

I always find inspiration in the books I read, as I mentioned in my recent article The Joy of Reading, published on the ProHealth website (that article also includes tips for those who struggle to read due to cognitive function, plus lots of book recommendations!). I keep a Quote Journal to jot down quotes from books that I relate to or find inspiring or thought-provoking.

This was my favorite quote from The Handmaid's Tale:
"Is that how we lived, then? But we lived as usual. Everyone does, most of the time. Whatever is going on is as usual. Even this is as usual, now.

We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn't the same as ignorance, you have to work at it."
          - from The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

This passage struck me for two different reasons. The first half of it speaks to life with chronic illness - as extreme and horrific as it seems at first, we eventually gets used to it, and it becomes our new normal - life as usual. Human beings can get used to anything. In many ways, that helps us to live with chronic illness, to accept our new, restricted lives, and to move forward in a new life now defined by limitations (when you think of it like that, it's not too different from Offred's life in the novel!). The potential downside is that you might forget there are any other options and be so accepting that you stop trying new treatments, reading about new research developments, and recognizing that there is a possibility of a better life ahead for you. I have found that a truly healthy life with chronic illness requires a careful balance between acceptance and hope.

The second way this passage affected me was the way that it was intended: that last line goes right to the heart of both Offred's world and our own. Ignoring the small changes happening in society - the steady chipping away of freedom and tolerance - can eventually lead to huge, horrific changes. Ignorance - not knowing what is going on - is perhaps a valid excuse, but ignoring is something else entirely. It is very easy for each citizen to simply keep living his or her own life - as usual - while ignoring what is happening in the wider world, but that kind of ignoring can have serious consequences. I have been reading a lot of WWII fiction lately, and that is a recurrent theme - how ordinary citizens ignored what was happening to others, until it was too late. It's a brilliant and very thought-provoking sentence that stopped me in my tracks.

Just for fun (there's not a lot of fun in The Handmaid's Tale), I enjoyed another quote because I have a bit of a magazine obsession, and this passage is all about magazines, when Offred sees an old glossy magazine in a world where they no longer exist:
"What was in them was promise. They dealt in transformations; they suggested an endless series of possibilities, extending like reflections in two mirrors set facing one another, stretching on, replica after replica, to the vanishing point. They suggested one adventure after another, one wardrobe after another, one improvement after another, one man after another. They suggested  rejuvenation, pain overcome and transcended endless love. The real promise in them was immortality."
                    - from The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

I rarely have time to read magazines at home, but when we go on a road trip (as we often do with our camper), I bring a stack of magazines with me and happily flip through them in the passenger seat. I can't read books in the car because I get car sick, but I can look through magazines (frequently glancing up to look at the horizon!). I love Offred's musings on what makes magazines so enticing. I think part of what I like is just that it feels to lazy and decadent, a treat I rarely have time for. With my time and energy so limited at home, I always feel pressure to be productive when I am not resting - to get as much done as possible in my very restrictive life. But in the car with my magazines, I am free and can sit there doing nothing productive, gazing into other people's lives, with no guilt at all.

Have you read The Handmaid's Tale? Do you find books inspiring and thought-provoking? Most importantly, do you like magazines? (ha ha)

Hope you are enjoying a relaxing weekend!


Anonymous said...

Once upon a time, I worked hard to change the world. I am older now, the limitations of my illness are finally being considered instead of fought. I see that all my work has been for nothing. All the 'bigger' entities in this world still keep moving forward. All my efforts were for naught.

Sue Jackson said...

Sorry to hear that you are feeling so helpless. I think that a lot of people today are feeling that way - healthy as well as sick!

It can seem overwhelming and as if one person can't make a difference...but the amazing thing is that many single people coming together CAN actually make a real difference in the world! We see signs of this all over the world.

In our chronic illness world, I often post here on the blog about small steps we can each take - even from bed! - to help make a difference. Things like clicking a link to send a message to your Congressional representatives or using iGive to donate to the charity of your choice (for free) when you shop online or many other small efforts that when taken together, add up to real changes! In fact, I will be posting in the next few days about an easy way to let your Congressional reps know that ME/CFS funding needs to stay in place and get increased (it is in danger of being left out of the budget again). This sort of effort worked the last time we were in this situation, and it can work again, if we all act. We are stronger together!