I am a rearview worrier. I don’t fret about things that could go wrong in the future. Instead, I spend my time obsessing about things that might have happened in the past.
I can still see the car that sped through the red light and the intersection when, thankfully, I hesitated a moment before entering. I can still feel the cracked ice and the icy water seeping into my winter boots when I fell through when I was a kid. It might be why I liked I Am, I Am, I Am, so much. Or why I’ve already written about regret.
In fact, my whole memoir is about coming to understand what could have been. I only comprehended the gravity of my own brain tumor after seeing what happened to my dad after he lost much more after his stroke. It’s been 24 years since my tumor was removed and I’m still obsessing about what could have been.
Over the past two weeks I’ve I had my yearly brain MRI and exam with my doctor to ensure my tumor hasn’t returned. This annual appointment always causes me to reflect, but this year, I learned something I never knew.
There is a spot on the scan where they removed the tumor. It appears as a flat grey spot, unlike the white brain matter around it. I’ve always wondered why the spot looked so big, especially since I was told the tumor was only pea-sized. I was only 22 at the time of my surgery and I didn’t pay much attention to what was happening to me, but I imagined they went in and scraped out just the tumor from my temporal lobe.
But now that I was much older, I wanted to really understand what happened. My doctor scrolled through my scans, showing me the grey spot in three different scans of my brain until I could finally see its shape in 3-D form.
By then I was guessing the “spot” was actually a ping-pong or maybe a golf ball, something that he confirmed as he popped out the temporal lobe from a model of the brain and pretended to pinch off the front quarter of the bean-shaped lobe.
I rounded my fingers into an imaginary ball holding the space in my hand, “What’s in the space where the brain used to be?”
“Nothing, he answered. “Well, brain fluid,”
I was floored. For all the rearview worrying I had done about my brain tumor, I had never understood my surgery in that way before. I was walking around with a literal hole inside my head. Now I really had something to think about.
I had already come to terms with brain surgery and the fact that I had been very lucky to have a small tumor in a very operable spot, but I needed to know what else I might need to have been worried about. My rearview worrying set in for a while, as I pictured everything I had already imagined for my first surgery, but now doubling down. Things could have been double worse!
And then I stopped. I had done all the reverse worrying I could do. While the new information was interesting, it didn’t really change anything.
I was still who I was after the surgery and my life has played out the way it had, no matter how many times I reworked it. But I was still glad I had done all that reverse worrying in the first place. It helped me see how lucky I had been. Now, maybe even a little bit more. I still had a lot to be grateful for. And now I have a bigger hole where I can store all my thankfulness.