Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Taboo and Curse

Reading more of James L. Kugel’s wonderful book, “In the Valley of the Shadow”. He weaves together theology, religion, research and his personal experience with cancer. In a fascinating chapter about the role of omens and taboo practices in ancient cultures he bridges back to his illness and the experiences in our culture around cancer. He writes…

In fact, almost the sole remnant of that very ancient mentality in the world today is the way we feel about cancer; it is still potent magic. In many languages, although the word cancer is well known, people avoid using it in ordinary speech. “He’s very, very tired” they say in my in-law’s part of France, while, “He has the sickness” is common in Israel, and no doubt elsewhere. Saying the actual word might cause it to come into existence—in you or in the person you are talking to—or, at the very least, it may hasten the end of the person you are discussing.

Until recently the New York Times obituaries would say, “…after a long illness.” Doctors themselves try to let patients down easy by avoiding the C-word, or even “tumor” instead what is discovered is “a slight growth”, “an unusual polyp” or “an irregularity that should be checked.” Despite all clinical evidence many people still avoid shaking a cancer sufferer’s hand.”

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