Quality versus quantity: a false dilemma

“No doubt you now have many decisions to make based on quality and quantity.”

So far, this is what my doctors have said when they discuss the recurrence of brain cancer

and possible treatment plans. And then they start squirming, clearly signaling their wish

for us to go or for them to exit so we can discuss our options privately.

But I don’t believe this is the whole story:

it appears to me that most doctors are unprepared to discuss mortality.

They are not accustomed to being vulnerable, especially with their patients;

maybe they have not really looked at their own mortality unless they’ve had to.

I cannot weigh in for my comrades in the cancer club,

or for anyone else face-to-face with the big M.

But what comes to me to say is that it’s always about quality

no matter how much time you think you still have.

Quantity offers a false promise embedded in the American dream:

the more the better; the more you have, the better your bragging rights;

the more you have, the more power you can wield; the more you have, the more you are.

The more money you have, the happier you will be;

the more high-tech equipment you have, the more your bottom line will increase;

the more gobbledygook fine print on your insurance statement,

the more money the insurance company will make.

As my dad used to say, “if you cheat big enough, the government will have to bail you out.”

But when it comes to the length of your life, there are no sure bets about quantity

unless you have an inside scoop with the three fates,

especially Atropos, the one who snips the thread.

Everyone will eventually come to their end.

As I age and prepare to bow into sensei mortality,

I am discovering it is never not about quality.

Quality is that willingness to be present in every moment

no matter what is happening, both pleasant and unpleasant,

even when puking your guts out after an infusion and chemo.

It is the practice of paying attention with all the senses in a grounded, centered way.

It is the courage to see that everyone is working through some kind of pain and grief

in the best way they know how, even those whom in our small-minded moments,

we would like to condemn.

Quality is the everyday choice to be vulnerable and visible;

to speak the truth if it is helpful and inspiring;

to spread love and joy with a raucous and irreverent sense of humor;

to bear witness to the fragile beauty, interconnectedness, and innate intelligence of our world

even as the wrecking crew runs amok and the greed-fueled unraveling accelerates.

4 comments on “Quality versus quantity: a false dilemma
  1. frances says:

    as always simply and beautifully stated. I wish I was as brave as you. I love you forever, much longer than this life

  2. Hetty says:

    Having been a Hospice nurse for 30 years I remember many stories from patients. They often reported that their doctors were terribly uncomfortable discussing end of life issues. Once they got to our Hospice staff it was a relief to be able to be honest and be heard. Your thoughts on quality vs quantity are so on target. The folks that live in this world that believe that amassing things, money, control over others will keep them from having to face what we consider reality…they have a very difficult time at end of life. The miracle of every moment, the quality of that miracle, is essential. It’s not how many moments we have, it’s the quality of each moment. Sorry, my soapbox showing!

  3. kate says:

    Oh yes dear friend. Well said. As my mother said, “None of us get out of this alive.” She also advised when asked about her long life and how? “Enjoy your vices.” Today I witnessed the osprey family preparing to fledge. We are all preparing to fledge.

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