A number of years ago now I was having a bad reaction to a chemotherapy drug. I had begun to walk bent over from the pain it was causing me. So I was ordered to stop taking it. Not surprisingly, I stood up again and walked around pain free.
Two weeks later, to the day, I was upstairs on the first floor, having my breakfast while reading a book, still in my flannel nightie (it was a slow day, I was still celebrating the release from the pain). And I began to vomit. Huge, full-body releases of everything solid and every drop of fluids I never knew my body could hold.
On the half hour, exactly.
For ten hours straight.
I knew that I should be getting myself to the hospital, but I had stayed on that floor (it was only a few steps between the couch and the bathroom), and so was still in my nightie (a wise choice for the day in its ability to absorb the splashback from the force of the vomits. And I didn’t want to call people in who would see me in this state of soggy dishevelment.
I had called others who lived in the house and requested their quick return home so they could assist me in changing clothes and driving me to the hospital, but what with the nature of life, work, and where I live, no one showed up until much after I needed their kindness.
After the siege had stopped, I managed, weakly, to walk down the flight of stairs to my floor. And I replaced the blessed hard-used flannel with something fresher.
I knew, then, that I should be calling the hospital.
But my bed beckoned. I can lie in it and look out the window to the trees and bushes in the backyard, and watch birds flitter over to the neighbor’s feeder. So I lay down.
And it felt so good. I don’t think I had ever had a more pleasurable sensation than when my aching, exhausted body felt the cool sheets and the soft support of the pillows underneath my head.
I was so weak. Weaker than I had ever felt before. Which is quite a statement given the battles with death that I have waged over my lifetime.
So much had thrown itself out of me that it felt like very little was left. I was a just a thin leaf resting there.
And that was all I was going to do: rest for a moment or two, and then call for help.
But it was so nice. So complete. So reassuring.
And then I thought, I am going to die.
The thought didn’t bother me in the least. I no longer have anyone depending on me. I didn’t really know where I was in my studies with God, what purpose they had other than to fill my time on Earth.
Dying was just fine with me.
So I closed my eyes.
If I was dead in the morning, so be it.
The only thing I regretted was having unreturned library books in my room.
But the next morning, I knew I was still alive. I could see the sunshine sweeping over me. I could hear the cats at the food bowl, beginning their day of eating, sleeping, and chasing bugs.
I knew I was still alive.
And while contented with the sweet sensations that were gently caressing me, I realized that I had something new: resistance to life.
I could feel a solidness infusing my soul.
Not that I’ve ever been a person easily influenced. As a young woman I was once described as having the outer appearance of a weeping willow with the reality of a firm core of an oak tree. With age, children, and, well, God, the ease and sweetness of the weeping willow has given place to a gnarly bristlecone pine. But the assuredness of the heart of oak has always been there inside me.
What became really difficult in the days and months after the full-body cleansing was that I didn’t want to get going any longer. I didn’t want to assume any responsibilities, like finding a new car. I didn’t want to think about what-I-was-going-to-be-when-I-grew-up.
I didn’t want to do anything.
I just wanted to be dead.
As much as I enjoyed being alive and feeling happy at seeing the sun come up, I just wanted my life to be over.
I suppose, in a way, I’m like a person who has been in a severe car accident and has been seriously injured. How much do I want to work on my physical therapy so that I can walk again? Not at all. I suppose there are people like that.
It’s not depression.
It is, I feel, the fact that I’ve lost trust in life. With God in some way. If I begin again, I thought, what happens when it stops again? There will be all that doing and having left hanging out there with no one to take it in again.
And I didn’t like that feeling.
Leaving things incomplete.
I’d never thought of life (or death) that way. Of being interrupted. Stopped.
But back then it was all I could see of life. That actions started could be left. . . .
A part of my noon prayer program includes the three-minute meditation sent via email from Loyola Press. They are a PowerPoint presentation of pretty pictures with words imposed on the images, with a swooning, swaying, intended-to-soothe-you music playing gently in the background.
Each and every meditation begins with the instruction to become aware of God’s love for me.
Every single one.
For years this command has choked me. When I’ve mentioned my difficulty with it to others I’ve been advised variously to stop doing these meditations if they upset me or just let myself feel God’s love for me, you do know that he loves you, don’t you, Julia? or some other you-haven’t-heard-me-you’re-not-helping kind of suggestion.
But what suggestion could there be for me? I didn’t know the problem.
I remember feeling God’s love for me intensely as a child. And then, I don’t know when, that feeling stopped. When I first brought this up with my then spiritual director, he related to that. Feeling loved by God as a child. And then somewhere along the line no longer having that feeling. No big happening to mark the spot. Here!
Just a forgetting on our parts that that was once a constant in our lives and now is not.
Not even a twinkling. A drip of a reminder of that feeling.
Just me. God. And life.
I actually did put effort into trying to feel God’s love for me. Every noontime I would take the time to breathe deeply, settle my body down, and try to know that God’s love for me was there with me, enveloping me, enfolding me, encompassing me.
Just an acceptance of the fact that he loved me. Like a teenager being told, I love you, by a parent just before he runs out the door: Yeah, yeah. I know.
Don’t bother me with your love, will you?
I’ve got other things on my mind.
But then while sitting there waiting for a thunderbolt of God’s love to fry me, I began thinking about this realized resistance to life that has been on my mind lately.
And I saw it there with God.
The resistance. The rejection.
I don’t want to be swept up in the love of God and be thrown around again.
It’s hard on the body, for one thing.
Even harder on the soul.
Earlier this year I remember feeling that I was just going to relate to John of the Cross after he escaped from his imprisonment, limping around the country, sick and bent over.
I wasn’t going to hope for anything grand or sparkling.
Just a peaceful existence.
It seems that I’ve become a cower-er.
I want to be shielded from life and its current, and God and his hurricane winds.
But, ultimately, I just don’t want to trust.
Trust that I’ll handle either.
So, in the end, I seem to have lost trust in me.
So now I get to look out my window and into my soul and find it again.