24 October, 2012

Not Alone

I'm republishing this post (with minor editing) from about 18 months ago. I think it deserves wider audience, and -- well -- I needed to read it again as well.

I have a story. It's a story of a rather remarkable medical history, and when I first began to tell it, I made reference to a world seemingly determined to punish me. The joke was always -- "what must I have done in some previous life to deserve this?"A good friend, who knew my story, paused over my use of the word punishment, and in trying to listen to that pause, I paused too.

It's true. It really wasn't the case that I felt punished, in spite of my recurrent serious illnesses. Yet none of the other words I ventured seemed right either. As it turns out, the problem was the phrase itself. The phrase wasn’t true to my story, and therefore, no word within it would ever resonate.

We've all heard it -- "bad things happen to good people." And, I've been known to say, “If bad things occasionally happen to good people, I have probably had more than my share.” When I said that in the past, however, it was almost with a sense of pride not with the shame of punishment, and in my more meditative moods, I have thought no one is given more than he can handle. Today I must ask, was this pride? Or was it simply näiveté?

On more than a few occasions when others were facing difficulty, I have barked, “If this must be, give it to me. I can handle it. Leave these others alone.” In January and February of 2009 though, the tables were turned. After coding in the Emergency Department, I again fought life-threatening illness. Then, in the deep of my winter, there were many who worked tirelessly to save me, a stranger, and there were many others who danced their miracles of love, for me and for themselves.

So ... if I wasn’t being punished, perhaps I was being tested. How strong is he? How brave is he? How intelligent is he? No, my challenges were not tests. They were lessons, and lessons that for me were evidently unfinished despite their increasing intensity.

It would be necessary for me to confess how profoundly others helped when I was most helpless, and just maybe I am finally beginning to learn that it wasn’t I who rose to every previous medical challenge -- it was WE who rose to every challenge.

And -- just maybe it was more than fortune that brought so many to my bend of the river, and however strong, however brave, however intelligent I may be, to complete my journey I need them - these guides who nourish me with support and perspective and wisdom.