Reprieve

It’s the oddest thing living in a state of ill health. Having had a pretty much completely healthy life until recently, I had no experience with “chronic” health problems, as so many unfortunates do. It has kept me from these writings, from nearly all things that I do for pleasure, for months. And now it appears to be over.

I don’t think I want to get into the nature of the problem itself. I’m feeling better now, so it’s as though it never happened. I just recently read some writer’s “voyage back from addiction,” with all the mundane details of how heroin ruined his life etcetera, and oh how pathetic I was, and all that. It may sell newspapers, since folks love to read about someone more down and out than they are, but to me–a Plainsman after all–such confessionals erode one’s dignity.

Suffice to say I’m back to being me. I don’t want to dwell on it; but I’m writing of it now as a kind of farewell to paranoia, to daily pain, to endless doctor visits, to awkward and embarrassing medical procedures.

So let’s just be done with it, and be thankful for that wonderful feeling of the keys under my fingertips, tapping out my thoughts so obediently.

What I find remarkable is how easy it is to shift from a day-to-day existence to a “here and now” existence in the face of a possible life-threatening situation. It became, for me anyway, nearly impossible to think seriously about anything more than a few weeks into the future. Long-range planning seemed naively idealistic. Better to just get through this week, see the doctor, then we’ll move on from there. And any event supposed to be pleasant is never fully pleasant, tinged as it is with thoughts of impermanence. You sit at the dinner party, everyone laughing and talking, and you hear them, and you even join in, but your mind keeps butting in, whispering to you that “sure, this is nice, but what if it’s the last time for you? What if you learn the awful truth tomorrow and become incapable of enjoying a single moment free from thoughts of an impending death?”

Melodramatic, to be sure, but that’s how my inner mind works under stress, not allowing me to take “focus” off the problem. It’s a personal assistant who won’t quit bugging me about my “twelve o’clock with a Mr. Death?” or “Yes, I have a Grim Reaper here to see you? Says he has an appointment?”  I’ve even considered the idea that I’m a hypochondriac, that this stuff is all in my mind and I just need to snap out of it. But then I remember the pain, and the hospital stays, and the bills. Yep, I’m forced to admit, I’ve got some problems.

But as with another near encounter with the Undiscovered Country a few years ago, there is a pleasant by-product to a reprieve from the self-imposed death sentence. It’s like getting a promotion when you thought you were going to be fired, like getting probation instead of the chair; it’s another chance and the proverbial clean slate.

And so I keep moving toward my ultimate goal, which I think I’ve outlined here before, of living deliberately. I get closer to a life of the here and now, because I’ve been so close to feeling like life could be gone forever. Each day now I am aware of my luck at being alive, of the comforts of my home, of the love of my family–all that corny stuff. Though there are many who would probably feel cheated or like some kind of failure living a life as simple as mine, I can’t get past being immensely grateful for another day free from pain and anxiety. I wake up, I feel normal–and hey, it’s a great day. Can’t complain, as they say.

So the ugly here and now of existence, living in constant pain and fear of serious illness, gives way to the beautiful here and now of existence: of feeling rapturously relaxed during dinner with friends, or engaging in a calm and sweet conversation with my daughter, free of those background thoughts of dread.

Free from fear, thus free to live. That’s all I need for now.

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