Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Life as an Invalid Feels Like Prison?

It has been a hard year, a hard Spring, a hard last couple of weeks. I have been hurting a lot. Reading is harder, writing is harder, thinking is harder, remembering things is harder. But Depression isn’t too bad, and OCD is manageable… most of the time. All this stuff is familiar from the past 20+ years. It’s all related to the Lyme disease that went untreated and misdiagnosed for a very long time (read my 2010 book for details about that odyssey and other things too: here’s the LINK). We did everything we could back in ‘04 and ‘05 when I was finally diagnosed for Lyme that I may have first contracted in 1988. Success was only partial. Symptoms recur—call it “chronic Lyme” or “post-Lyme” or “long Lyme” (a new perspective for doctors who have had to deal with “long COVID”). I have had “ups and downs” frequently, and flare-ups of this or that for years. But lately I’m getting hit with a barrage of stuff at the same time.

Is this like being in prison? Sometimes it feels that way. It feels like prison.

I’m frustrated. Stuck mostly in bed these days. I’m able to take a walk most evenings. Prisoners are allowed out for exercise for a half hour every day. Mass on Sunday. Otherwise I rely on technological gadgets, which have opened lots of avenues of wider engagement from home. And, of course, books. But lately, I’m so tired…

I have so many thoughts in my mind, so much I have studied and considered long and hard, but I worry because I can’t “get them out,” express them, share them. Sometimes I can’t even put them together in my own head. Over 30 years ago, Fr Giussani told me, “You will be a great teacher.” I am a sinner, but I think I have tried to follow the way he pointed out to me. When I got too sick to teach in the classroom any more, I kept studying. I have learned much in my years as an “invalid” (or, as I prefer to say, “semi-invalid”), and it’s not just academic stuff.

I’m lazy, proud, and disorganized, but I keep trying. Or I’m trying to try… I want to live, and even if I’m tied up, I want to look at the rope and learn about it, and I recognize that there is something more than its constraints. I know that the meaning of my life doesn’t depend on myself. I’m created and sustained and I belong to the Infinite Someone who moves me. I forget that too often, or sometimes I just cry out “Why? Where am I going?” 

I have been given so many possibilities to learn, to verify again and again that all of this life is a sign of the promise of meaning and fulfillment, and my total need for the One who brings them. With my academic training, I’m listening to the voices of the peoples of recent history, and the tremendous suffering that has been endured. Aspirations and achievements too—great and hopeful things, yes!—but so much suffering, failure, distortion, betrayal, so much crying out in the darkness, so many defenseless human persons being smashed—yet especially here, the image of God doesn’t disappear, and any spark of humanity left unquenched keeps looking for air to burn.

We continue to endure this monstrous storm, expanding our power and riding on the edges of chaos. Admirable achievements, but so much suffering and so much darkness. “Why, God? Where are we going?”

Eh, my “prison”? I’m certainly not alone here. This “place” is full of humanity, of persons. There is so much longing for life here. And of course, Jesus is here. He has come to stay with us, to suffer with us and for us, to suffer for the sake of love. What does that mean, God? What is this “love,” Jesus?

The Mystery dwells among us. Never mind “theology,” I’m too small to understand more than what is given to me. Many saints have reached great depths in the experience of this mysterious love. But millions and millions of people (as far as we can tell) have never really heard His name. The Mystery dwells among us in mysterious ways. Somehow, they encounter Him. But we want to share with them the awareness of Him that has been given to us. We want to share Him, share ourselves… and also we want to discover His love for others—encounter Him through them too. There are surprising “signs” among the poor and suffering peoples of this earth.

Perhaps what really matters for me right now is praying and suffering my incapacities, “offering” them in union with Jesus, especially for my beautiful family and for those who carry heavy burdens, that they might know the Lord’s mercy.

Meanwhile, I work as much as I am able, without trying to overdo it. I thank God for every day.

I read. I listen to audio when my eyes are too tired. I can still experiment with digital graphic art, which nevertheless sometimes stresses me out because the new possibilities are growing constantly and exponentially. It takes time to get used to new forms and capacities of media. You can see that I made a strange “self-portrait” above.

Please pray for me as I struggle with difficulties like these. We all suffer with pain that is beyond our understanding. I know that. Let us pray for one another.