Monday, October 10, 2011

After Illness

The thing is, there's no way around it. Even though we plan our lives to completely evade it as much as possible, we can't.

No matter how much money we try and insulate ourselves with, bam! It's there like mud after rain.

No matter how many packets of Vitamin C powdery-fizzy goodness we mix into our waters, or how many super-healthy-eating cookbooks and fitness guides we buy with titles like Become a Super Human Android in Five Easy Steps While Eating Only Chocolate Only Through Your Nose, it's there.

It is.

No matter, either, if we stayed inside, never got wet, never touched another human being even. It's still there. We're going to get it.

Illness. Colds. Flu. Diarrhea. Vomiting. The whole gamut.

I started to come to peace with this reality when I began teaching seventh graders. I caught everything they had--and man, they had it all. It seemed every week I was coming home with a new variation on the age-old cold.

Now that I am a home-dad, it seems playgroups and playdates in York, England carry those determined bacteria just as confidently as do public schools in New England.

Tyler has just fought off his third bout with something. Jen and I have stopped trying to label each successive cold. Instead, we've tried to love him through it, help him see that it will pass, put vapor rub under his chin, hold him through the coughing fits, and let him watch as many movies as he wants.

(Meanwhile, we steel ourselves for the undeniable fact: we're next.)

But the thing about realizing that we're all going to get sick is this: after illness comes health. Most mornings, we wake up and start our days. But after illness we wake up and feel like high-fiving the post carrier, doing a flip down the stairs, and eating our bowls of cereal while singing the Hallelujah chorus through every bite--milk spraying, Cheerios flying free.

We get better. Colds leave. Flu hitchhikes out of town. Fevers drop. Coughing stops. Vomiting ceases. Diarrhea slows. It passes.

During my most recent battle with a vomiting-inducing-cold of some strain or other, I sat on the bathroom floor, clutching my stomach with one hand, the toilet with the other. Preparing to retch for the 11th time in two hours (no hyperbole, really).

Tyler was asleep, and Jen was there with me for moral support. (It hadn't yet made the leap to my lovely wife.) I looked up at Jen when there was a break in the vomiting traffic. "I can't do this anymore."  Then I took a breath, and then I vomited again.

Jen's reply was as true as true as true: "Yes, you can babe. It's going to pass. I know it's awful, but it will stop and you'll feel better."

And that's the thing. It stops. The better comes.

None of us like to vomit or feel like our heads are exploding or like someone is gleefully sticking their fingers up into our nostrils and poking around trying to find the valve marked MUCUS RELEASE! But we all love the moments when it clears, when we can breathe, eat, laugh, feel what good is, again.

So I'm really only regurgitating here when I write that wisdom is all about--or at least a little about--finding a way to hold onto the it will end! during the it's hurting!

In our illnesses, yes, but also in our work, in our writing, in our relationships, in our wounds, in our confusions. No pain has the power to wield a full attack forever. It stops. Somehow, in some way, it gives up. And what remains are not the trails of bacteria and germs and messy clothes and broken relationships. No. What remains is the way we've grown through the pain. The way we've learned just a little more about love.