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Have you ever looked forward to a break only to spend it staggering between the bedroom and the bathroom? At some point, you might have moaned, “Why do I have to be sick?” If you move beyond the plentiful advice about what to drink or eat or do when you’re sick or how to prevent falling ill in the first place, you can fuss about compromised immunity due to stress or exposure to pathogens in the community or even bad karma…but you’re still sick.
I’ve recently spent an entire week sounding like Darth Vader with a mouth stuffed with worms while my eyes ran like those of the guy in The Mummy who gets his eyeballs ripped out (only mine ran with tears, not blood, thank goodness). The pouches under my eyes swelled up and discolored until my husband was afraid he’d be reported for domestic violence. I hurt all over, couldn’t sleep for more than an hour at a time, and my head began screaming inside for no apparent reason. Other members of the family suffered vomiting or diarrhea, so I was lucky.
The question remains: WHY?
Philosophically, why do we suffer disease? Is there some reason deeper than trying to control the population? It’s an odd question, but one that occurs when you’re sitting on the sofa in too much pain to read or watch TV. Okay, maybe the question doesn’t occur to you, but I couldn’t help wrestling with it. I promised myself I’d look for the instruction in even the worst situations this year, so here goes:
My first answer is sickness reminds us that we’re walking around in rental units. No matter what your belief system–with the possible exception of the people who committed mass suicide so that aliens could transport them from their beds–we accept that our bodies are functioning on a limited contract. It’s a not-so-gentle Ghost of Experiences Past that warns that how we live–the human connections we cultivate, what we eat, what we drink, how much we sleep, and whether or not we get any exercise–changes our destiny and even the expression of the genes we pass on to our children. We can give our heirs vulnerabilities to obesity or alcoholism, for example, that we might have avoided. We combat the vulnerabilities that were bequeathed to us.
Being in rental units reminds us that at some point we will be evicted from our bodies. We can’t delay squeezing the juice out of life, because eventually, the juice is gone. It’s up to us to decide what the juice is made of, what the ultimate meaning of the life experience should be. If we choose to spend most of our time and money extolling the virtues of our bodies and/or faces, we’re holding a losing hand. Even if we live an extraordinarily long, prosperous, and healthy life, at some point we start looking like ugli fruit left to rot–or maybe a plastic version of a human designed by a very rich plastic surgeon. No one is fooled for long. Neither riches nor sex can excuse you. As Olympia Dukakis tells her philandering screen husband in Moonstruck, “You’re gonna die. No matter what you do, you’re gonna die.” To which he answers, “Thank you, Rose.” Reality therapy.
A less dire aspect of sickness is that Nature enforces vacations. Even if you think your work is too important, it can’t function properly without you, and you absolutely must do anything possible to impress your boss and build SUCCESS, Nature will mandate vacations. Of course, the vacations Nature selects for you often include vomiting, but you were the one who wouldn’t listen. Nature is trying to keep you alive as long as possible. Oddly, some cancer victims find that the life style changes that are forced on them by their disease create a more fulfilling, balanced life. They may be healed even if they aren’t cured.
Finally, sickness reminds us that everyday life isn’t so bad. It could be worse. You could have explosive diarrhea. It reminds us to keep life in perspective. Is a tongue-lashing by your boss really the worst life can dish out? “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” as they say.
I still sound like Darth Vader, but he has spit out the worms. I’m delighted each morning that I wake up without the screaming in my head. My work seems easier than it was before. I noticed the precise blue of the sky today. I made flight reservations for a real vacation with people I love. I can get well now. I get it.