Gentle Chaos

Nancy Maris’ self-determined narrative on MS, identifying as crippled, and living with an incurable disease lives outside of Aurther Frank’s trinary of illness narratives. There are certainly parts of each that one could pull from her story. She has her Salt Path moments, resolving to travel through the desert and California state parks, on a quest to experience life before she is no longer able. A doctor presented with Nancy Maris’ story about her life with MS could argue that her’s is a chaos narrative. Her description of periods of grief and depression, falling down, dropping cans, losing her vision and mobility, her contemplation of death and incurable disease reflect on chaos. But Maris argues that the chaos narrative is about a doctor’s fragility, not hers, “whose disease in its intransigence defeats their aims and mocks their skills.” Maris writes, “I have always tried to be gentle with my doctors, who often have more at stake in terms of ego than I do. I may be frustrated, maddened, depressed by the incurability of my disease, but I am not diminished by it, and they are.” The assertion Maris makes here is so powerful. She’s arguing that, on the contrary, doctors who seek to cure and eradicate are the ones who feel defeated in the face of illness, death, and incurability. That contradiction is reflected in her diction. The suffering, the banal, the grief that Maris describes here and throughout her story is juxtaposed by the word she chooses to describe her approach to doctors: “gentle.” An MS diagnosis does not change Maris’ will to live or her perception of herself as a whole person. She is not diminished. Doctors who subscribe to the idea that disabled or sick body is broken, or see “death as the ultimate evil” see Maris’ narrative as one of chaos and defeat. But she refuses that. The way she talks about being gentle with them, instead of the other way around is perfect irony. It’s amazing, it’s hilarious, it’s truthful, it’s dark. And it’s her own.