Friday, June 17, 2011

There is Sick and there is SICK...

Dear Sandy,

I need to apologize. You will probably say that an apology isn't necessary, but I think it is. It is important to me to say "I'm sorry for being rather insenstive."

Sometime this morning you emailed, asking for feedback on Part Nine of your remarkable series, "The Journey We Take Alone." You gave the email the subject line "So?" and began by writing:

"Okay, I'll admit it, neither sleet, nor snow, nor diabolical illness stifles our yearning to achieve." Then you went on to ask for "constructive criticism."

Meanwhile, I woke up this morning feeling, for lack of a better or more delicate word, like shit. I had a splitting headache and my neck hurt so much I couldn't hold my head up. I had a funky stomach, too. No doubt I picked up a virus from my parents, as I was tending to my mom's illness yesterday.

So I just wrote you back an email saying I hadn't had a chance to read Part Nine. I wrote back to you saying today was a "stay in bed" sort of day and that I would get to Part Nine shortly.

About four minutes after I hit the send button, I was standing at the stove in my bathrobe boiling up some elbow macaroni. That's when it hit me:

SANDY PROBABLY WAKES UP EVERY MORNING FEELING LIKE SHIT. Or worse. He's got a "diabolical illness." He's on self-administered dialysis. He is anxiously awaiting a transplant of both his heart and kidneys.

It is so easy for us -- for me -- to forget what it means to be truly sick. Even though I endured a long and grueling treatment for cancer nine years ago, and know all too well what it's like living with day-after-day agony, it takes no time at all to forget. It takes no time at all to go back to taking our good health for granted. It comes so easily to regard a day like this, one that presents a nasty virus, as just so unfair. Or such an inconvenience -- I've got to skip a concert tonight.

Why I want to apologize Sandy is that I said this was a "stay in bed" sort of day (and it is, I'm in bed writing right now.) But chances are, I'll be up and at 'em again tomorrow. I'll resume my jogging and yoga. My stomach will be all right again. And a few days from now I probably won't even remember the fact I was sick today.

Not so, for you.

And so I am sorry for being rather insensitive. Because if you let yourself give into your illness, each and every day would be a "stay in bed" day. And there would be no way you'd be writing the marvelous material you are writing here. (By the way, Part nine is another winner, so so moving!)

One last thing. Just before I read your email, I was reading the Dalai Lama's The Art of Happiness, a fabulous book. Just by coincidence (although I wonder if there is such a thing) I opened to the chapter entitled, "Finding Meaning in Pain and Suffering."

I was marveling at the Dalai Lama's suggestion that when we are sick, or facing pain and suffering, we usually try as hard as we can to avoid it. " But he suggests that there are better ways to deal with pain and suffering and illness. He suggests that "suffering can serve to toughen us, to strengthen other times it can have value by functioning in the opposite manner-- to soften us, to make us more sensitive and gentle."

Indeed, the Dalai Lama encourages us to use our personal suffering to "enhance" our compassion, by practising "Tong-Len," a visualization practice in which we take on another's pain and suffering. "When you undergo illness, pain or suffering, you can use that as an opportunity by thinking, 'May my suffering be a substitute for the suffering of all other sentient beings. By experiencing this, may I be able to save all other sentient beings who may have to undergo similar suffering.' So you use your suffering as an opportunity for the practice of taking others' suffering upon yourself."

As always, the Dalai Lama's teachings are profound and inspiring. Here he offers a simple way of finding "meaning" in illness; he is offering us guidance on how to develop empathy and compassion for others in pain. He takes what otherwise would seem pointless -- a bad headache, a stomach ache -- and he makes something positive out of them. He gives our suffering meaning.

So now. I am going to close my eyes and try the Dalai Lama's suggestion. I am going to attempt to do Tong-Len. This afternoon, Sandy, I am going to see if I can do what the Dalai Lama is suggesting. He recommends that with each in breath, we "receive" the suffering of another, and with each out breath, we give our positive energy and resources over to one who is ill.

I will do that this afternoon. I will recite this saying:

"May my suffering be a substitute for the suffering of Sandy Prisant, and all other beings who are ill."

I am not suggesting that I will alleviate your suffering in this manner. But at least today, Sandy, know this.

Today, you are not suffering alone.

Big Hugs to you and Susan,


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