EIGHT YEARS AGO I WAS RE-LEARNING HOW TO WALK. December through March were spent in a fuzzy haze mixed with trepidation and fear about the future. With hardware affixed to my hips and confined to a hospital bed in our living room, I asked myself again and again, How do I do this? How does one lie flat on one’s back for three long months (the amount of time required for a pelvic fracture to heal) without going absolutely crazy?
The mind is a funny thing. What if’s and worst case scenarios can loom in one’s consciousness like hungry vultures, feeding off of the fear and insidiousness which often accompany difficult circumstances. We want answers. Hanging onto tangled scraps of hope, we want to know that everything will be okay, or manageable anyway.
I am a doer to the nth degree. I don’t sit still well (much-less lie in one place well). Yet having no choice, I had to learn how to let go. Not easy, yet totally necessary.
Not able to do things my way (God forbid), I began to notice small things that I had never acknowledged before. Activities which previouslyfelt meaningless, trivial or mundane (such as getting my hair washed or slurping a chocolate milkshake) suddenly became high entertainment–something I looked forward to. As life began to slow down in so many ways, I was able to savor my experiences so much more: To feel the warm sudsy water dripping down the sides of my face as my mom gently caressed my head in a scalp massage (which felt heavenly). Evening milkshakes (with a little extra malt protein) were liquid gold. So much yummier because life had become simplified, pure and savor-able. Milkshakes and hair washings–These things were big deals.
(Gingerly) snuggling with my children. Watching the birds. Engaging in sick-humored banter with my husband and parents. Stroking the soft fur of my purring kitties. These things came to define an arduous (yet retrospectively very rich) three months. Somehow, deep rich gratitude had emerged out of a life which one might have described as kinda painful and sucky. Was it easy? Hell No. Did we get through it? Yes. Were we changed? You betcha.
Hunkering down. Taking life moment-by-moment doesn’t suck so much. Trust me.
I’m not gonna lie. I’ve been back at the space of wondering if I’m going to lose my ever-lovin’ mind. Bracing for the onslaught of the worst of this coronavirus pandemic has me scared shitless. Mostly I’m afraid of losing people I love. Knowing without a doubt that there will be deep loss and suffering, there are so. many. unknowns.
Cooped up with a surly soon-to-be 15 year old and teenage son with ADHD sends my brain into high-anxiety mode once again, which is tempered by being increasingly present. Staying in the here-and-now has brought me through before. It’s the juncture between learning to let go and trusting that healing can and will happen. In time. It’s embracing the futility of holding onto the past as we knew it, knowing that whether we’re ready or not, we WILL be changed. As individuals. As a culture. As a global community.
In my work as a hospital chaplain, I have companioned ventilated patients in the throes of respiratory distress. I have seen the terror in their eyes while I held their hands and tried to comfort them in their unimaginable angst. I have cried with their families, knowing all to well, the difficult conversations of holding on and letting go. These are heart-wrenching, life-defining times, yet they are the times where the distillation of the best parts of our humanity come to the forefront. Once again, time is crystalized in the form of mere presence.
I have seen (personally and professionally) what modern medicine is able to accomplish, as well as its limitations. I’ve tested the limits of what the human body is able to endure, and, at the dawning of my middle-age years–have finally learned how to listen to it’s wizened messages. Healing and medicine are a partnership–a delicate dance between the active and receptive aspects of our care. And while fate will always await us at the horizon, it still remains our duty to listen to the stirrings within the hearts of our bodies and the heart of our earth.
We are not alone here. We belong to each other. Forces beyond our control may bring us to our knees, but it is always within our power to choose how we handle the challenges before us.
This coronavirus has ushered in a sobering sense of humility–something so necessary in these times. As Mark Manson states in his book Everything is #@%!ED,
“The more terrifying the world is, the more important it is to summon up the courage to face it. The more confusing life becomes, the more valuable it is to adopt humility.”
As we gear up for the months ahead, let us summon up the courage to simply BE STILL. In this time where we learn how to navigate the uncharted waters of a global pandemic, to BE STILL may be the most important personal resource we all can share.
Be well, Chris