Can we find ways to walk the line between frankness and forbearance, and to respect and trust others’ intelligence regarding the elephant in the room? Image: Trey Mancini

Left Unsaid

When should you say what everybody's thinking?

The ubiquity of the present pandemic conditions poses a question we’re not used to asking ourselves: should we avoid talking about what everyone is talking about? To what degree should we rely on our audience to supply the context virtually everyone shares right now? We certainly can’t pretend like it isn’t there, but nor do we want to bang the drum too much or too loudly. The world knows what’s happening. We have to find ways to walk the line between frankness and forbearance, and to respect and trust others’ intelligence regarding the elephant in the room.

If we’re sensitive about this balance, it may enrich the stories we tell. An illustrative example is by Trey Mancini, who plays for the Baltimore Orioles. Fresh off the best year of his career, and as excited as he’s ever been for spring training, he was surprised to find himself feeling tired already in early March. He went to the doctor. His labs revealed cause for concern.

“I’d just come down with the flu the same day as the blood test,” Mancini writes, “so I thought that maybe that had had something to do with the results.”

We might all guess the same results, but we’d be wrong: Mancini had colon cancer.

Six days later, the tumor was removed. By the time he began chemotherapy, in the second week of April, the pandemic had gripped the country.

But you’d never know it from the next 4,000 words of Mancini’s story, which contain no reference to it: not a word about viruses, quarantine, or social distancing. What adds suspense to an already gripping story is our expectation, even our need, for acknowledgment. When Mancini finally writes, near the very end of the article, “chemo in the age of Covid-19 is crazy,” it comes as both a confirmation and a relief.

He proceeds to describe the peculiar experience of receiving treatment for life-threatening cancer when the very act of stepping into a hospital can feel life-threatening. But even this is not dwelled on for terribly long. Mancini gives us everything we need to know–what’s like to drive himself there, go in alone, and follow safety protocols (which he does unreservedly)–and then deftly leaps toward an ending that is really a new beginning:

I know that this is a terrible time for everybody. So many people have lost jobs, so many people have lost loved ones. After my chemo is done, and when I’m totally cancer-free, I’ve got a few different ideas of what I can do. I’m lucky enough to have a platform that I feel allows me to make a difference for some people.

And with that, he leaves us with an optimism that isn’t forced and a way to think about our own plans for what comes when our contexts become, perhaps, a little less shared, But that doesn’t mean we can’t be thinking of ways to keep connecting them.

What’s your platform, and what’s your difference? And how will you make them?

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