I was ill last week. Too sick to even turn in a column (my apologies to the editor). Apparently rare medical occurrences are my new lot in life, so I came down with both strep throat and influenza A. At the same time. Even the doctor couldn’t believe it.
Needless to say, I am just now crawling out of the blanket fort I created and blinking my eyes at the sunshine. I am no longer feverish or contagious, so I don’t really have an excuse for moping around in bed. But holy cow, am I still dragging. I just don’t heal up like I used to. It’s a combination of not being in my 20s anymore and being a cancer survivor. I just get sick much easier and stay down longer. Some of my older friends recently joked with me that I need to start taking it easy:
“We old people know how to take of ourselves. You need to take care of yourself, too!”
But that’s just the trouble. I don’t want to slow down. My body might feel like an old lady, but my lifestyle demands mom-on-the-go: kindergartener, 2-year-old, dance class, 2-year-old, housekeeping, 2-year-old. More 2-year-old. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. This is a major source of frustration. I want an active, playful life. I want a clean house and a pretty garden and nice meals. I want to keep up with the kids. I don’t want anything complicated or expensive, but I do want “normal” back. So many of you know what I mean — if you have diabetes, depression, MS, lupus, RA, fibromyalgia or any number of other chronic conditions, you’ve felt this way too.
“When will I ever feel better? When will I have enough energy run at full speed again? When will things go back to normal?”
These are good questions and important questions, but could they also be the wrong questions? Wanting and waiting to get back to normal is natural. But ... not if I let life pass me by, waiting for health and wholeness that I might never get back again. In the tension between “now” and “normal,” that waiting period, is a huge open space. Slowly, and rather painfully, I’m learning I can’t waste my life by leaving it empty.
Too achy to walk the kiddo to school? Driving is fine. Can’t make a pasta sauce from scratch for supper? Nobody ever died from Ragú. Too tired to roll around on the floor and wrestle? The kids would love a story. Too sick to get out of bed? I can still make jokes on Twitter. I can still pray.
It takes maturity (maturity I barely have) to internalize the famous lesson, “Don’t make the great the enemy of the good.” But it’s one worth learning.
Fr. Jacques Philippe, a spiritual author, put it this way: “The real life is elsewhere, I tell myself, and I simply forget to live ... We often live with this illusion. With the impression that all would go better, we would like the things around us to change ... But this is often an error. It is not the exterior circumstances that must change; it is above all our hearts that must change.”
Or, if you don’t go in for spiritual writing, a famous fictional wizard named Dumbledore once said much the same: “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that."
Whatever you’re waiting on in your life, whether it’s health or wealth, love or success, stop waiting. Step into the gap between now and normal, and fill it with life.