There is a whole pack of cliches that get lobbed at you when you get sick. Most are intended to empathize, support, or inspire, like:
I’m so sorry.
Let us know if there’s anything we can do.
Everything’s going to be okay.
Thank you, thank you, and I hope so.
Some though, no matter how well-intentioned they might be, really rubbed me the wrong way:
It’s always darkest before the dawn.
But anyone who’s died in their sleep can tell you, sometimes it’s just dark, and the dawn never comes.
You’re such a trooper.
Does this look like a kiddy scout camp-out to you?
God never closes a door without opening a window.
Good! Go stand in front of that window so I can push your smug self out of it.
I do not believe that god has anything to do with whether I get sick, get well, or get down tonight. (And I recognize, of course, that your belief system may vary.) But could god be a general contractor and nobody ever told me?
I came across this passage during the first year of my illness, when my brain and body were finding new ways to surprise and fail me on a daily basis:
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)
Clive, you suave devil, when you put it that way, I’m intrigued.
I had expected to have decades before I had to contend with the “normal” declines and disappointments of aging. I had no framework for thinking of my adult body as a thing in flux. But things were hurting abominably and not making any sense now, and this quotation gave me a new perspective — a peaceful one — from which to consider my experiences.
I loved the gentle reminder that change can be for the better and that destruction of (at the very least) the status quo is necessary to make room for creation. My suddenly uncertain prognosis might, just maybe, not have to be all doom and gloom in every imaginable way. The Unknown didn’t automatically have to be The Unbearable.
Maybe this experience of crumbling myelin and faulty nerve signaling could in some way be leading toward something better. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that naturally you’d have to give up the flower garden to make room for the swimming pool. But wouldn’t you rather float in the sun than prune roses?
In a shift that I liked to think Anne Lamott would pat me on the back for, I began to consider it a gift to get to become someone else — a new me, a learning me, a remodeled me. Because honestly, my old me wasn’t such a hot property most of the time. Maybe I could walk better, but I was impatient and fearful and lazy. I lacked perspective. I — well, I could go on and on.
I’m still impatient and fearful and lazy, of course, and my perspective needs regular filter changes. But Lewis’s metaphor sticks with me and reminds me to stay open to the possibility that I don’t know all the possibilities.