All my life I have known that one of my greatest weaknesses – a downright stupidity, in fact – is the way I viewed my body.
At most, even as a child, I saw my body as existing solely to house my brain. It is here so I can think.
A body might receive a prayer of healing from time-to-time. It may get the attention it screams for, but only because it is screaming.
Because I have given birth, I do know that giving a body rest is essential for all to be well. But only enough rest to get to the point when getting up and running around again is enabled.
I have become something of a professional at being seriously ill. With being faced with death. And taking the moments required to straighten it all out.
So I could keep going.
I gave myself and God complete credit for these “straightening out” events.
I have, in short, treated my body as though she were my slave. Dragging her around as I climb mountains, and am flung into chasms, and sit in deserts, all for the purpose of studying God.
And giving her no credit or glory or even thanks for all she has endured by being my body.
Years ago now, faced with my then-scheduled impending death, my body spent 10 hours vomiting up the toxins that had been put in her in the form of chemotherapy. Every half-hour, on the half-hour, never varying, I would vomit up what appeared to me to be my entire body’s worth of fluid. And yet, that couldn’t be because as the bell chimed the next half-hour, it all happened again.
Up came my whole life in the form of water spewing out of me.
And even though I was so weakened by this experience that I thought I might fade into death that night, once I woke up the next morning, I didn’t give that cleansing a second thought.
No. It was only time to strengthen. Time to find ways to clear my mind again.
So I could think.
I see myself as being so ruthlessly focused that were I scientist, I would be one who kept working while the lab burned down around me. Looking up only when I felt it absolutely necessary to do so. And feeling annoyed by being interrupted.
It’s that massively understated reaction to what is happening around me that gets to me sometimes.
No screams. Very little crying out.
Just frustration that my course has been altered by an event before me. And a dug-in determination to get through whatever blockage I am faced with.
No matter what it takes.
But I’ve been shocked lately.
Really, really shocked.
My last chemotherapy appointment was at the end of February.
Since that time, give or take a week, and up until April 4th, I have been violently ill.
Like the incident of many years ago, my body decided she had had enough of this infusion of toxins.
And so she cleansed herself of them.
Not for 10 hours this time.
For over a month.
And not vomiting this time.
Day after day, my body either exploded the poisons out of me or I sat in the bathroom for hours at a time feeling, once again, my whole life being flushed out of me.
Sometimes it was like my body just turned on the faucet, and what was once inside me came pouring out.
Day after day.
Week after week.
I thought every day it would stop.
And every day for that time I was disappointed.
Describing this experience as weakening would be like calling a hurricane a rain storm.
It was very much like standing in a hurricane.
And, like childbirth, it had absolutely nothing to do with the person of me.
It had everything and only to do with my body.
I drank as much as I could. Eating was very difficult.
And I rested.
I rested so much I learned how to watch television.
I wasn’t just weakened by this tsunami of mine. I was also very angry. Angry at how much pain I was in.
Angry that it began while I was still working through my Lenten disciplines. So that the anger that had been scraped up during them, through forgiveness and contemplation, was now stuck in the middle of my body’s collapse.
It hasn’t been until now, though, that I connected the two.
The pain of my soul merging with the pain of my body.
But as they say, the darkest is always before the dawn.
Because of this experience of absolute pain, the barrier between my present and my past melted.
Perhaps that was the reason for it all, in the end.
Who would come into my room at night with a belt, and, for no reason whatsoever, raise it above her head, and as she brought it down on me she would say, I’m going to beat you to a pulp, and then I am going to beat the pulp.
And what did I think about these assaults?
I wondered where my mother got that line.
She was a high-school dropout. She didn’t read anything other than women’s magazines.
And I wondered why the line never varied. She never added to or subtracted from it.
It was the same every night she did this to me.
It turned out it was from a movie. Kirk Douglas, I think, said it first.
And then I wondered why someone would be attracted to a line like that, and like it so much that she wanted to put it into action. Make it real. Bring fantasy into the home.
Not in terms of romance. Or happiness. Or even adventure.
But in violence.
What kind of person would do that?
As I wrote above: a massively understated reaction to what was happening to me. And my body.
When did I draw the line on this abuse? When I had to change my planned wardrobe in order to wear a long-sleeved dress to school to cover my bruises.
And the incident that brought about my last beating by my mother.
That’s when I had had enough.
I had been grounded socially the year before. I’m not even going to try to understand why. It just was. But when you are out of the flow, you lose connections. Friends might still be your friends in class, but a certain level of intimacy is lost when you are no longer a part of the after-school escapades.
So here I was. A senior in high school. Ungrounded.
There was going to be a dance. At the Merry Barn. And a young man who I didn’t know that well asked me to it.
Where’s the harm?
So he picked me up. And we drove to the Merry Barn. And when we arrived, my date turned to me as said, Well, how about it?
I understood by his look just what “it” meant.
Times had changed in a year. Boys in my world had become assertive and crude.
Most politely, no doubt.
He replied, Well, if you won’t, I know someone who will.
So I went into the Merry Barn alone.
I lived in a very small town.
My senior class had 60 students in it.
Everyone in the Merry Barn had a date.
I was the only single person there.
So I sat.
My good friends, from time-to-time, would come by and chat with me. But they were there with their dates, and were clearly having fun.
One of my friends kindly offered me a ride home when this was all over.
I came in my house.
There was my mother and grandmother.
My mother was ready with her belt.
They had followed me to the dance. They had seen “me” in the car with my date doing what he had asked me out for. They knew I had done “it.”
My truth had never existed for me with these people.
I had been seen. They were right. Resistance was truly futile.
I wore the long-sleeved dress to school the next day.
I laugh now thinking that it was having to wear that dress that made me angry.
It wasn’t right. That dress. On that day.
And the fact that I had had to endure sitting through an entire dance unpartnered and alone.
Only to get home and be seen by my mother as the pulp that she wanted to beat.
So I walked with my dog into town and sat down with my parish priest.
And in a day or so, I was taken out of my house to go live with another family in the town. And there I stayed until I graduated from school.
And, in truth, I never really thought about my mother’s brutality after that.
I was glad not to be there. I relished having the freedom to be with my friends when I chose to. To talk on the telephone without anyone interfering or commenting afterward.
What bothered me about it all was my “insufficient” reaction to it.
Now, though, while I am in my post-trauma healing, I feel the love I felt back then. The love of God. A love that enabled me to see people as just people. Not as monsters. Not as nightmares.
I saw myself as a monster, though. For the depth of my calmness and serenity.
Something lacking, I always thought. Or misshapened about me.
But now I am old enough and wise enough to see that God’s love wasn’t something that changed me into a freak. It was a cloak that was wrapped around me.
Because of it, I was given the freedom – the true freedom – to think.
In my current state of exhaustion and ache, I wonder what all that thinking has done for the world. I wonder if my life has been just an empty space. Looking beyond the horizon, beyond the stars, and finding something there. Something real. Something tangible.
But something that I haven’t really known what to do with.
That’s what I am thinking about these days.
That, my neglect and complete lack of appreciation for my body.
My body, that courageously decided on her own to keep me alive by expelling all those chemicals.
I am gobsmacked by the ferocity of her effort. Her commitment.
And so, not really being able to give up thinking altogether, I connect a new thread.
Life is not just all about the soul. Healing is not just all about the soul.
Love is not just all about the soul. And God.
There’s the body. There’s the Earth.
Who loves us as tenderly as God does. Who tries to watch over us and take care of us.
If we allow them to, that is.
Perhaps for me what this experience has taught me is that life really is in a circle. Around us. Though us.
That it’s not all about a straight line. A line between God and me.
There is God before me. And there is life – breath – behind me.
Perhaps this is a most important lesson after all.
The lesson that there really is no aloneness on this Earth.
That I am not alone even when there’s just me in the room.
And it’s not just God that is here with me. And his love.
It’s my own breath. My own life. My own being.
Funny lesson, that.