“I have never been anywhere but sick. In a sense sickness is a place more instructive than a long trip to Europe, and it’s always a place where nobody can follow. Sickness before death is a very appropriate thing and I think those who don’t have it miss one of God’s mercies.”
I have only very recently come out of the dark wood of chronic illness (recurrent mononucleosis). Mine was, compared to O’Connor’s lupus and my sister’s cancer, extremely minor. But it was not minor to me. It was fairly debilitating, and not only for me; the extra work that my wife had to take on in managing the household was quite a burden. She could never be sure when she could count on me; aside from being constantly weak and malaised, I would have every day a spell in which I absolutely had to sleep, do not pass go, do not collect $200. This helped push me into a low-grade depression, exacerbated by the awareness that on the grand scheme of things, what I was dealing with was pretty minor.
Everything ended over the Christmas holiday, for reasons that are fairly clear to me, but which don’t bear exploring here. I told my wife last night that for the first time in at least two years, and really for the first time in four years, since the time my sister was first diagnosed with cancer, I feel like my old self again. It’s like I’ve been wandering around for years unable to find my glasses, and suddenly I stumble upon them, and … wow, the world is crisp and clear again. So, for that I give thanks to God and to all the doctors and others who helped heal me, and to all who prayed for me and put up with me.
I’m going to have to spend some time eventually thinking about what the experience of chronic illness did for me. Not “to” me, but “for” me, in helping me to understand the human condition better. What did it teach me? What does it still have to teach me, but that I will only discover on reflection? O’Connor’s characterization of chronic illness as a place is apt, I think.
If you are, or have been, sick in this way, I would be keen to hear your report and reflections on what it taught you.
I won’t be posting for a while today; giving a lunchtime talk at Highland Park Presbyterian church in Dallas, then catching an early afternoon flight back to Baton Rouge. Later, gators.