I’ve been sick. For a month. I’m worn out with it.
Worn out enough to have spent the last few days in bed. Worn out enough to have finally called the doctor. Having filled the prescription he gave, I can breathe again. Though I am still tired. And each breath has that ache-y, medicinal twinge suggesting that my body knows it isn’t yet breathing under its own strength.
To be confined to a sickbed feels like the ultimate waste. Productivity ceases. To-do lists are left undone. One can no longer give anything. Confined to bed, receiving is the name of the game.
In other words, it isn’t only the pain of illness that makes it so uncomfortable.
When sick, it is no longer possible to do; the challenge is simply to be. I focus on each breath in and out. At first, this brings fear. Later, comfort. To labor at something which is usually instinctive is to recognize that it has always been, will always be … a gift. Breath. The presence of God. Beyond us and within us.
When we are sick, the world shrinks. I have a book. The view from my bedroom window. A slowly ticking clock. This is life condensed. Which means there is more to notice, more to observe, more to think about in one minute of this life than in an hour of my usual busyness.
And that is a good thing.
Still, I hate the phrase “look on the bright side.” It suggests a yin-yang view of life that I simply can’t accept. I think you know what I mean: every cloud with its silver lining, every light with its shadow. No thank you.
Shadows only make me dream of a world without shadow. Of light without darkness. Of a day when “the moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter … when the Lord binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted” (Isaiah 30:26).
But, in the meantime, I do marvel that anything good can emerge from sickness. From brokenness. From darkness. This isn’t to say that “it’s all worthwhile” or “it happened for a reason.” Those are platitudes that do little justice to the utter wrongness of sickness. And brokenness. And darkness.
No, when I acknowledge the good gift I am marveling at the fact that darkness is never all. There is always something more. Something beyond.
For me, now, it is only a few words read in a book in the middle of the afternoon while I lie in bed and listen to the children scream their far-off screams. They are not, in this moment, my responsibility.
And so, released from every responsibility that says do, I lie still and read a description of wolves crying under a full moon in Yellowstone Park. I’ve never heard a wolf’s cry, I don’t know if I ever will, but now, having read these words, I can carry that cry with me for the rest of my life:
At the same time other wolves joined the first two, and we heard … the full-throated quiver of the pack. It haunted everything it touched, sanctified it. It rolled down the mountains and onto the plains and the bison heard it, the ground squirrels heard it, the crows nesting in the trees heard it. Mary began to tear.
“We are alive,” the wolves said. “And the world is beautiful.”
(from Eternal on the Water by Joseph Monninger)