On taking it one step at a time

One of my doctors told me “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves” when all we knew was that there was a mass on my pancreas and something on my liver.

We are, it is true, prone to imagine the worst. And imagining the worst may make you less hopeful and less resilient. (Not sure that’s actually true.) But some of us are prone to imagine only the best. And that can be dangerous too. Filled with hope, like air in a balloon, we may not safely navigate around the sharp edges of reality.

There is some wisdom though, in saying, let’s take it one step at a time, because if we stay with the present, and only the present, we can deal with it, we can see it fully, and we can see how we relate to this moment.

But there is also folly in staying only with the present, and not wondering how things might go – good or bad. No responsible engineer, investor, businessperson, wedding planner, writer, artist, parent, thinks only “let’s take it one step on at a time”. They plan for possible eventualities. They imagine the worst and the best, and the likely things to happen in between. They put money away in case they lose a job. They think about how something might fit on canvas, and not just the point the paintbrush touches it. They save up for a college fund.

I wonder why those of us with incurable cancer are told “let’s take it one step at a time”. Is it because they don’t want us to think about the future? Or do they not want to think about the future? Or are they just avoiding difficult conversations by repeating things that sound wise?

I begin chemotherapy tomorrow. But let’s not discuss that yet. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

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