I was burning. A slow, surreptitious fire. A diffuse thread of lightning tracing down my body. Not the shock of one hard blow but, like dark ink, a slow and spreading stain of pain.
And, I kept telling myself it’s just a little pain. It’s just a physical discomfort. (Do you, like me, think first of the heart when you hear the word “pain”?) And, then, after months of handling it and a then few more of needing help to handle it and then a good attitude and then a bad one and then drugs I didn’t want to take and then a surgery I actually did want, I have to admit that what I really felt, more than anything, was fear.
Fear of not being able to cure or escape this pain.
Therefore, fear of a life impeded in some chronic way.
Therefore, fear of not being able to fully feel and enjoy a life I finally love.
Therefore, fear of falling back into a life of less love and less balance, less faith and less peace.
Therefore, a fear of the beginning of all things ending. Which they all do, of course.
Finally, therefore, admitting to a fear of the existential fact of having to ultimately let go of everything I love, a fear that is much easier to tell yourself you have come to terms with or meditated away when everything is going great and you are capable of sitting comfortably and happily in the present moment.
And I thought it was just a lumbar issue.
“People Who Fear Pain Are More Likely To Suffer It.” Just the title of an article about some serious medical research at Stanford, but I laughed at how much it sounded like a pronouncement from a Buddhist sage. I began studying the link between pain and fear because, like a little lab rat, I had been clearly demonstrating it. Then I began to focus more on articulating and admitting to my fears rather than just managing my pain, and funny thing. My resurgent post-surgical pain has all but vanished.
Which is not to say I am completely… whatever. Better. Well. Good. All I know for sure is that I am calming down, and trying again.
“Again” is one of the biggest words on earth. On my oven a cherished motivational magnet proclaims, “Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’”
It is the beginning of the first Friday in February, and I am trying to start writing again. I have sat here nearly every day in January, staring at books and notes and words and hopes, trying to remember how they were all dancing together. Searching, harder and harder. Fearing, some more. Then, trying a little more than that. Just cleaning off the desk, going through the piles, rearranging the books. Just chopping wood and carrying water, when I glance over and into a heart-shaped bowl I really enjoyed including in my revivified workspace and filling with only two pens, one pencil, one paper clip and one blue jay feather.
Another pesky feather trying to show me the way. I’d let it fall onto the floor and the dog had chewed it, but it was still trying. Trying to make me remember that a bunch of bluejays had been dancing outside my window most of last week. So, I googled “symbolism of the blue jay” and at the top of the first page was a quote from Rainer Maria Rilke that turned out to be the last stanza of a poem that all but squawked at me be more gentle with myself and my halting efforts to begin again:
How surely gravity’s law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of even the strongest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.
Each thing –
each stone, blossom, child –
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push out beyond what we belong to
for some empty freedom.
If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.
Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.
So, like children, we begin again
to learn from the things,
because they are in God’s heart;
they have never left him.
This is what things can teach us:
To fall, patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.
From Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God and straight from the universe to one 47-year-old birdie, on the ground and a little wet from all the rain, but trying.