The Lessons that Sickness Teaches

Edward Hopper, "Morning Sun."

This past week has been what I refer to as a sh*t storm.

There have been plumbing problems in the house I rent, resulting in sewage backing up into my tub and shower, followed 24 hours later by a bout of the flu that, literally, brought me to my knees.  I was fine at 8 PM on Monday night. By 10 PM,  I felt weird.  And by 11 PM, I had a close, personal relationship with my toilet bowl.  I spent the rest of this week too weak to work or eat, flattened to my bed, alternatively boiling hot or freezing cold, with (blessedly) my little Belly dog curled up at my side.  I managed to feed my animals and keep the house from descending into chaos, but I had virtually no energy to do anything.

And, I think, that was the point.  Spirit sent me a little virus because I was running myself into the ground.  Spirit sent me an opportunity to energetically clean out my body.   Spirit backed up the plumbing so that a real problem (sewer gas leaking in the house) could be corrected.   Nothing like an ounce of prevention versus a pound of cure.  Nothing like a visit from upchuck to help you clean out everything you might have been hanging on to!

Illness — to me — is a message that I need to course correct in my life. Things are out of balance.  I am working too hard. I am not having enough fun.

It is initially a nice sticky note that says something akin to: “Hey, Bud!  Take a down day!” If I choose to ignore that message, then it becomes a letter stamped “Urgent” in blaring red: It has come to our attention that you are run-down. We advise you to schedule some time off. Finally, it becomes a brick, and later a bludgeon, if I still choose to whistle Dixie and go on my merry way.

This week, I got bludgeoned. I received the ultimate smack down from the universe: “Since you will not listen, Ms. Berry, we will have to get out the big guns.  Don’t think your pathetic little flu shot will protect you!  We are here to slam your ass into bed and keep it there!  Understand?”

And so, I go to bed, chastened that my body is not something that I can take for granted any longer. This body — this miraculous constellations of cells and blood and bones — cannot take my abuse forever.  It has been willed through an awful lot by me, but as I age, I realize that I cannot will it to reach beyond its capacity any more.  Just as we would stop breathing if we didn’t exhale as well as inhale, so must I work hard and then rest, play hard and then rest.  Rest. Silence. Time to soak up the sound of the hummingbirds in my citrus trees or the plaintive wail of a dog several blocks away. Time to plant tomatilloes and tomatoes.  Time to meditate and read, sit in the tub (after it is bleached and scrubbed) and rest my weary body.  Time to sort and cull and clear out whatever is no longer working.  I don’t need to hoard possessions or work until I drop in an exhausted heap on the floor. Life is meant to be enjoyed. That includes the idea of rest, and well-cooked meals, and time to write letters to old friends, and time to listen to Gerry Rafferty and Neil Young and other aging rockers I loved in my youth.

A mentor of mine told me about ten days ago, “teaching will take up your whole life, if you let it.”  By this he meant, unless I draw a line in my life regarding what is appropriate and professional in terms of commitment to my teaching and what is too much, teaching will draw it for me. There is never enough of me to do all that my students expect me to do. Therefore, I must decide to differentiate between teaching time and writing time, and consider those two things as so important that I cannot ever neglect my artistic side in favor of my teaching side.  We were talking about my poetry manuscript, and how I’d realize that I must schedule time to write instead of relying on the idea that I would just naturally “fit it in” to my busy life.  Now it goes on the calendar as “writing time.” (Blogging each Saturday morning is one of the other times I have committed to.)

The point I am trying to make (whether eloquently or not) is that we are “the cruise directors” of our lives, so if we don’t make a conscious decision to come out of the belly of the ship and enjoy the smell of the ocean and the sound of the waves, we can expect that one of these days we will get ill –so ill — that we cannot easily bounce back from it.  Life is about balance.  Life is about loving and caring for ourselves as well as others.  I learned that this week and I am grateful for the lesson.

© 2012  Shavawn M. Berry  All rights reserved

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