I have been for most of the last five days unable to stand up or sit up, unable to eat, stay awake, keep anything in my stomach, carry on a sensible conversation, contribute in any worthwhile way to the well-being of my family, fulfill the obligations of my work, or in the most basic manner look after myself. I have been unable to think clearly, walk any distance, drive the car, take myself to the hospital, talk on the telephone, answer all the kind emails filling my inbox. I have been utterly dependent.
It is not easy for me to be this helpless person. It is not easy for me to be constantly on the receiving end of other peoples’ generosity. It is hard to watch myself placing such demands on the one person who has been burdened with so much of my care, though she has carried the load with incredible grace and gentleness.
And, to make matters worse, I saw my GP today and with all the sympathy she could muster, she made a pretty convincing argument that this past week has been mostly a self-inflicted wound. I brought this on my self.
Smart people in my life have been telling me for years to drink more water. It seems kidney stones are attracted to people who fail to adequately hydrate their bodies substituting diuretic caffeinated beverages for nature’s gift of water. To the frailty of my body I can add the humiliation of my stubborness.
So now it seems the worst has past. My GP encouraged us to pursue our planned fifteen hour flight on Sunday and the twenty-four days of teaching and leading workshops and retreats to which it will carry us in New Zealand.
I will try to drink more water and stay away from caffeine. But most of all, I hope I will try to live in the gratitude I have in my heart to so many kind people for their prayers, good wishes, kind thoughts, and generous actions. It is not easy for people like me who foolishly imagine ourselves as capable and competent to find ourselves on the receiving end of such kindness. It is not easy when there is no possible way to repay all the gestures of goodness received.
But, if kidney stones have reminded me of anything, they have reminded me that life is not a balance scale in which everything comes out fair in the end. In the grand scheme of things, kidney stones are a minor irritant, relatively quickly past. The pain is soon forgotten, leaving no lasting damage in its wake. The minor cost of altering certain dietary habits is a small price to pay. The week stolen by my stones, does not amount to much in the light of the harrowing ordeals so many people face from day to day.
As much as we are reluctant to admit it, we are bound together in a community of need. This week my need took the foreground and I was put in the position of accepting kindness and support. Another week the tide will turn, and I will have the opportunity to be the one who can be strong for another.
The common bond that unites us is the reality of the frailty of our human flesh. Need will come to us all. Even those who faithfully drink their water, never stray from a healthy diet and exercise religiously, will come to a place where they require the gift of care from another.
Perhaps the gift of a week stolen by stones is a deepened awareness that it is compassion and gentleness that make our world work. As I recover from this confrontation with my body may I be more willing to enter into the divine exchange that can both give and receive these deep gifts of the human spirit.