by Kelly Salasin
Home sick, I’ve been called to write for days, but excepting posts on Facebook & Twitter, I’ve rebuked the call. “I don’t feel good and don’t want to write,” I hiss at my muse, but the pressing doesn’t stop.
The truth is that I know I’m on the cusp of recovery because last night I moaned and complained “about” being sick (as opposed to just being sick)—and this morning, I’m ranting and raving about it. “I’m DONE!” every impatience screams.
The older I get, the more I sense that illness is a rehearsal for dying. In fact, I can apply Kubler-Ross’s stages to my simple case of strep:
DISBELIEF-Sore throat? I just got over the flu last week!
DENIAL-I’ll just have an extra big glass of wine.
BARGAINING- I promise to rest tomorrow.
GUILT-Wow, I shouldn’t have gone to that baseball game, gallery walk, the cow parade, that party…
ACCEPTANCE-I WILL stay in bed until I’m better!
DEPRESSION- I can’t do this anymore. I’m tired of feeling terrible.
Actually, the idea of the stages is that they’re supposed to “end” with acceptance and hope—not with anger– which is where I’m stuck. Needing to ‘reorder’ myself brings me to this morning’s reluctant writing as I add another pillow behind my neck as an olive leaf toward surrender.
Birth is the other metaphor that comes to my mind during illness. And certainly we cycle thru the same stages during labor. I remember that exact moment of despair in the eleventh hour just before my son was born—which itself lends “hope” that there is something ready to be born in this week-long labor too.
There was once a gift born of a single virulent summer flu that I’ll never forget. As the fever burned through me, I came to the realization that I needed to leave my new job. I resigned there right from our plaid couch with great clarity and peace of mind. In exchange, I finally conceived our second son that fall.
I have no job to resign now—but maybe that, in and of itself, is what requires my resignation.
My dreams this feverish week have been plenty. One found me removing an outgrown child’s sweater from my closet. Woolen and pale, it hung misshapen with moth eaten holes throughout.
Days later, this rich image continues to speak to me. First it tells me of the winding down of my role as mother to young children. At 13, my oldest graduates this week from elementary school and my youngest, at 8, has begun the bittersweet dance of moving both toward and away from me.
In another dream that same fitful night, my chest of belongings is destroyed by fire and all the letters that I was to read for my memoir are gone. The next day, in “real” time, I find out that my great Aunt Sue has died—one of the last vestiges of my magical childhood at the ocean. This dream of loss continues to burn in my heart.
Perhaps it was Aunt Sue then, who came the night of her death in my most comforting dream of that evening—delivering delicate skeins of just spun yarn in brilliant hues—placing the soft pile of color on the bookshelves that surrounded me.
“Let things come,” is the quote that serves me of late- which itself “came” on a bag of green tea. Quotes arrive like friends, emissaries of light, and stay—sometimes for days or even weeks, but never as long as this one–which has continued to teach me through the seasons.
“Let things COME,” I breathe deeply, resisting my urge to strive. I have been striving for as long as I can remember. I see myself as a character in one of those war torn films where a scrappy youth survives the odds by her own tenacity.
In The Empire of the Sun, a young boy makes it through bombings, refugee camps, exile and war’s end surviving by the dogged persistence of his spirit and will. As a Social Studies teacher, I used this film every year, and each time I felt the closing scene in my bones.
Finally reunited with his parents (against all odds), the boy-turned young man–falls into his mother’s arms and finally, FINALLY, closes his eyes.
This DEEP need for “rest” is one that screamed out at me just a few years back when I left my roles in education to take a three-month writing sabbatical. A few years before that, I met “Rest”, face-to-face, in the ending of my mother’s life. The deep exhale of her travail permeated the house as she left her wrecked body.
Why do we “work” so hard at living, I wonder? What is that for which we “strive”? Are illness–and ultimately death–the only ways to truly surrender to our deep need for rest?
“When the world is too much with me,” sings Wordsworth and poets through the ages. No matter how enlightened we may be, we are not spared this weariness. Even Jesus on the cross moans, “My God, my God, why hath thou forsaken me!”
My ultimate rest is dreamed inside a mother’s fleshy arms, warm and brown–my head on my husband’s chest–just like it was last night with our boys wrapped around us.
One cannot force a birth–at least not from home–for the hour of telling–is it a boy or a girl–must come of its own accord. And thus, I wait—and hope—to know what it is hath come of this week’s suffering and surrender.
Now knowing, that if nothing else, the scene of my family in my bed–like a renaissance artist’s rendering- is worth this tiny rehearsal of death.
And remembering too, when in her last weeks in a home re-filled with family, I asked my mother, “Don’t you hate lying here in bed; waiting for someone to get what you want?” To which she responded with the smile of one who has loved 7 siblings, 9 children, 4 dogs and 2 husbands: “No Kelly, I kind of like it.”
Maybe that’s the whole point of these striving lives we lead… so much are we in need of rest–that whenever our time comes–we’re ready.
in memory of Sue Ramagosa, in her eternal rest & rebirth