When chronic pain and/or illness slam into our lives, we change. Just as surely as George Bailey hit that tree in the film IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Bam! We usually lay there for a while, metaphorically bleeding and trying to understand what has happened to us. Each of respond differently, yet the same. We are a in a state of shock.
We become many things, assume different personalities and lose many parts of our life along the way. I wouldn’t be at all surprised on my worse, pain-filled days to see parts of me lying out behind me, like brown needles falling from a drying Christmas tree. Whether we intend to or not, we also begin to shed.
We have to choose activities to eliminate because we cannot do all we previously were capable of doing. We shed friends and family members who simply make life too painful for us due to their callous, uncaring attitudes. If we don’t shed them, they become heavy, burdensome branches of our lives which weigh us down causing doubts, disruption and sorrow. Of course, everyone changes or grows over the course of their lives. It is exaggerated for those of us who have a sudden onset of change or are totally unsuspecting when it strikes. Like small children enjoying a meal, our plate is taken and we holler, “Wait! I wasn’t finished with that.”
What we each forget as we traverse this bumpy path called life is that we are on our way to dying. I apologize if you find that depressing but I do not. I find it a gentle reminder like an alarm on a watch that is set to remind us of a meeting. “Buzz, buzz,” life is calling and telling you and I to make the most of today. Just as surely as a Christmas tree chopped down on a farm or in the forest wild is cut from its roots and source of life. When as newborn infants, our umbilical cord is severed; we are separated from our physical life source. We are essentially on our own and helpless and need to cry for help, food and warmth.
Would we have it any other way? It is the way of life and few mothers reject the idea of staying pregnant any longer than they must. This reminds me of when my husband was in nursing school. As you can imagine, for a big hulking man like him, obstetrics was not his most comfortable part of training. One night he had a young woman in labor who was loudly proclaiming to everyone, “No, I don’t want to do this. I’ve changed my mind.”
My husband, RN in-training said, “Sorry Darlin’ but it’s too late. The train has already left the station.” (I’ve no doubt in today’s world he would have been written up for sexual harassment, but let’s face it. The young about-to-be mother’s thoughts were on other things.)
Just as surely as we, those cut Christmas trees now have to find a new base to stand on or in; a newborn faces a similar situation. As human beings with a longer life-span than a cut Douglas fir or Blue spruce, we can go in many directions. We can be ornamental like those lovely green trees but have very little choice as to the direction we are going. Of course, we each try to take our vitamins, eat correctly, get an education and make a thousand decisions called for in life. We can tell ourselves we’re in charge but soon realize so much of what happens to us is fate or chance. Some of us believe it to be a combination of God’s long term planning and our opportunity. As far as long term planning, if I had known before birth that my family had such lousy genes would I have chosen those Falkner/Faulkners? Probably, if I knew then what I know now, I would still know and love my dear parents and lead the life I led as a child and young woman. Like that famous train in the OB department, heading down the track toward us, faulty DNA can be relentless and unforgiving. DNA is the train that has already left the station. God never put his massive arm around my shoulder and asked, “Okay my child, these are the choices of families you have before you. These are the good points and these are the bad.” Nope. Never happened, at least not that I can remember.
My dear Dad and everyone in his linage, which included four daughters, were each struck with some form of rheumatoid disease. Some of our children and grandchildren develop problems as they grow, as well. As far as the combination I mentioned, the second is opportunity and that is a tree with many tops. It is all about choices. Some of us choose to put ourselves in precarious situations, perform stupid acts of recklessness and thus, our lives are changed. We choose habits which we know are detrimental to us yet we keep doing them. Life is a series of imperfect branches on the trees, in our roads of life and in our very private minds and thoughts. The tricky part of being a tree is to stay balanced, not fall down, mentally or physically and to smell good. Okay, so I threw that part in; ‘tis the season.
One of those choices we face every day which I believe is of primary importance is how we envision our lives. “As a man thinketh in his heart so is he.” It’s so easy to lose our way and not see things as they truly are. A writer I have held near to my heart over the years is Glenn Clark. He writes of mysticism from the Christian perspective. He calls this confusion of vision the “blur.” He compares them to binoculars or opera glasses which can be “off” by the simplest turn of the screw or knob. In other words, illness and troubles can cause us to become unfocused. How do we stay balanced as humans? Let’s talk.
Once again, allow me to quote from Glenn Clark. “Do you want a balanced world? Then get a balanced personality. And how do you get anything? You get only by giving. As you give you shall receive. What are you? Are you a giving person? If you are then the world will be giving to you. Are you a getting person? If you are, the world will be getting all it can away from you.”
Mr. Clark continues, “Do you give powerfully? Then Power will come to you. Do you give lovingly? Then Love will come to you. Do you give beautifully? Then Beauty will come to you. Do you give abundantly? Then Abundance will come to you. What shall you give? The most beautiful, most powerful, most wonderful of all gifts is yourself, your faith, your trust, your love.”
There is a lovely Christmas story told by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. It is about a young woman who worked for him in his home. Her name was Ursula, a young teenager from Switzerland who came to this country to work and to learn English. She acted as a babysitter, secretary and helped in their home in New York in any way she could. When Christmas Eve rolled around, she observed all the gifts the family was receiving and wondered what she could give in return or what she could give that would not appear small and cheap in comparison to the Peales and all they had. She decided on a gift and took the small amount of money she had into a large New York department store and found a small item and purchased it and had it wrapped. Then she asked the doorman at the department store where she could find the poor people. He didn’t quite understand her yet tried to help her. Then she approached a policeman and asked him the same question.
He told her of many of the boroughs that were inhabited by the poor but cautioned her about going into them, alone and with the sun setting. Finally she approached a Salvation Army bell ringer. She felt more at ease with him because they had the Salvation Army in Switzerland. She asked, “Can you help me? I am looking for a baby. I have here a little present for the poorest baby I can find.” Then she held up her tiny, colorfully wrapped package.
The kindly bell ringer stopped ringing his bell and looked at her and asked, “What kind of present?”
She replied, “A little dress for a small, poor baby. Do you know of one?”
The Salvation Army man said, “Oh yes, I know of more than one I am afraid.” He then told her he knew of several such babies in his own neighborhood and would be off shift in a short while. He took her to an old rundown apartment building and pointed up at the windows and told her of one small, poor newborn babe and its family.
He then said, “Shall we go up?”
Ursula then shook her head and said, “They would try to thank me.” She pressed the package into his hands. “Please take it up for me. Say it is from someone who…has everything.”
She then asked the taxi driver to drive her through the dark streets back to the Peale’s home. Having observed all this young woman had done, the cab driver wouldn’t let her pay him and simply wished her a Merry Christmas. At Christmas breakfast the next morning, she began in her hesitant English to explain to the family why she did not have a gift for any of them. She told them her story of the previous day and all she had been through. She shared with them about the department store, the door man, the folks on the street and the policeman she had asked. She told them of the kindly Salvation Army man, the kindly taxi driver and lastly about the gift for the tiny baby. Ursula said, “So you see, I try to do a kindness in your name. And this is my Christmas present to you…”
Apparently there was not a dry eye at the breakfast table afterward. That story stayed with Dr. Peale for many years as I’m certain it would any of us. Ursula was a young woman who understood the secret of giving.
Pain causes us to have many needs. We become entrapped in the “need” business and forget the giving end of life. We become the succubus in the room and expect giving to be in one direction…always toward us. We are overlooking a huge source of strength, joy and freedom. We are losing our place in the line of life and fail to contribute. The writer Henry James said, “Three things in life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.”
Apparently, the human heart beats 100,000 times each day. The kind heart, the giving heart that understands the secret of giving is making the highest use of those beats; don’t you agree. I suppose a heartbeat is a heartbeat but I believe the beat from the giving heart is the only one that both gives and receives a gift.