Praising the Lord for This Sick Day
I have spent so many years trying to cultivate gratitude, and occasionally it appears in my heart, unmistakably. This usually occurs in the dark, in silence, in the middle of a sesshin (a silent meditation retreat that lasts up to a week) when the dust of my mind and self-concern settles enough that I can actually feel just how deeply and totally I am being carried by other humans: the infinite strangers in the chain of those who brought food to my bowl, keeping me literally alive; the sleepy Zen student who woke me up with drum at 3:50 am; my mom for giving birth to me; the person sitting on the cushion next to me day after day, just for the company, and for being, like me, a suffering sentient being. There is always that switch that gets flipped somewhere within a retreat, where things get good.
And then the lights go on, and we start talking to each other, the retreat is over, and while I always incorporate some visceral aspect of the open-heart of sesshin, it fades. Big time. And I inevitably go back to grumping around, seeking yet another something or other, when not long ago I had been satisfied, even grateful.
That is, of course, samsara. I get it. It’s a process, a spiral. And generally I feel patient with the two steps forward one step back nature of this practice.
And then something crazy happens, way, way crazier than sesshin. A bunch of kids my daughter’s age get massacred with a semi-automatic weapon in their school by another, much older, kid. The adults throw their bodies over theirs, and die. Their teachers get them to sing a song as they sit and listen to gunshots, or hand out candy as their six and seven year old classmates are shot to death.
Yesterday Azalea woke up sick. Today she is home again. Fever, cough, on the couch listening to Ramona. Praise the Lord for a sick day is all I can say, and even feel, when this morning she woke me up at 4 am, the poor little heater, lying in bed next to me, holding my hand, unable to get comfortable. T slept downstairs in her room because we all knew she needed me. And I needed her. And besides, he’s the one in the family who can sleep anywhere, anytime.
Sick days are always a little bit sweet with their popsicles and head holding and floppy, cuddle-craving kids. And I don’t usually complain too much (about that!). But this is sick day is special, with such horrible grief at its back.
It’s like one of those optical illusion photos where one side dominates, and then suddenly: it’s a lamp!
The interesting thing is that even before I set foot in the land of this confusing, foggy, but filled with clarity, too, post-Newtownian reality, something had been shifting. I had been noticing how lucky I am to have this house, this husband, this body (!), this life. And then I started reading Andrew Solomon’s new book Far from the Tree for an interview I have with him next month. My initial response was that I was so jealous of him I could barely read it. And then I realized just how hard he must have worked to actually write that book (duh!). And then I had the thought, wow, I don’t think I would want to work that hard for that long. And then: hey, good on Mr. Solomon for doing it. Now I get to read it. Hey, thanks!
And that I wouldn’t want to spend ten years doing that instead of living the life I have.
It’s been a lovely bit of life these days. Lots of Hanukah fun, and the prune roast was amazing! (If you want to make it, cook it for a long time.). And by the way, during my last tennis lesson, I brought up The Incident, and indeed, my coach had been perturbed that I had acted like such an ass, but we talked/laughed about it. And it was fine! He assured me that he has seen it all in 20 years of coaching. And he invited T and I to do it again.
We’ll see about that.