When the Unimpaired Look On With Envy

I came across a poem today, “I Tell You” by Susan Glassmeyer, that described the incredible love a man showed to his wife after her stroke, “one branch of her body a petrified silence.” The poem, written from the point of view of an observer looking on, included the line, “While we the unimpaired looked on with envy…”

I remember this when I was sick. How people liked to come and be with me because I had been lifted out of the mundane world of doing and obligations, schedules and busyness. The trappings of daily life had fallen away and I was living in the underworld, seeing across a vast open plain. Access to that plain only came by passing through the bottleneck of pain and discomfort, isolation and loneliness, nausea and vertigo and taste buds gone bad. Access to that plain came from facing death and opening my hands wide, fingers splayed with lots of space between.  Some people were afraid and stayed away. Others came to visit and sat by my bed. They wanted to drink me in. They wanted to touch the place I was touching and hoped they could do it through me.

If I had kept being sick, in other words, if I had headed immediately toward dying instead back to health temporarily, I would have continued living in that vast, open plain. I miss it. There was glory in the sickbed. Glory and discomfort. Awe and despair. A crack in the world that let brilliance and beauty in.

Life as I know it here is commonplace and ordinary. I am in a limbo between the world of the sick and the ambition of the living. I am living a lull, resting in an in-between place. My life is wrapped in the mundane. There are moments when the world stops and grace and beauty flood my senses, moments when a still lake rises up from the center of my being, but then there are the lists and the doing and the hopes and fears and dreams and crap that comes with maintaining a human life.

When I sit with someone now, who through shock or illness or great loss is living a span where the world has stopped, I always want to linger. I am never afraid. There is something about the world stopping, about identity slipping away, about the moment after disaster that holds the seeds for liberation. I always want to rest there. When our skin is peeled back and only the truth is left. When the ordinary world falls away. I know that place. I have lived there. And I go back and visit whenever I can.

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