|Not my agenda for this week.
(A reflection as I depart for Study Leave)
Last Tuesday, I had oral surgery. It wasn’t my first trip to the oral surgeon’s office. I’ve been the nurse for all three of my children as lingering baby teeth or inconvenient permanent teeth or simply unsupportable wisdom teeth have been removed from their dear mouths. I’ve sat beside them in the recovery room, listened for the instructions, read the list of acceptable soft foods, laid in the right kind of gauze and chosen the favorite ice cream and the appropriately amusing videos for a sad or groggy patient.
I’m good at this. I started early, as an 8th grader looking after my mother when her wisdom teeth became a problem. I have *no* idea who drove her to and from the appointment, as my father (1) didn’t drive, (2) would have been useless as a nurse and (3) was at that time working far away from home during the week. Thus it fell to me to perform the tasks, both the icky and the cosseting, required to care for my mother’s wounds. I guess I did a pretty good job, because soon after she loaned me out to a friend who felt her similarly-aged daughters could not manage it!
But last week, I was on the other side. I was the person who needed a driver and a care-giver, someone who would be able to cope with both the mess and the aftermath of anesthesia, that strange twilight state of consciousness in which some of us don’t know who we are and some are angry with the world, while others are as charming as Cole Porter at a cocktail party. (And if this describes any of my children after oral surgery, please be assured I will not tell you which one was which.)
This worried me. I don’t like to be that overtly vulnerable, or to make that much trouble for anyone else.
And, almost hilariously, this was borne out in the way I woke up from anesthesia. “You can open your eyes, Songbird,” said a voice, and obediently, I did. I wondered vaguely how they would get me from this place to the recovery room, and my worry was for them. When a chair with wheels appeared, and someone told me not to try to stand under my own power, I wanted to say, “Don’t worry, I will do exactly as you say.” Of course, I couldn’t quite speak the words. I was too dopey. But my instincts to be helpful and minimize the inconvenience of others were asserting themselves as soon as I came back to even mild consciousness.
Not that it’s particularly praiseworthy to be like that. Sometimes we need someone else to care for our wounds. If we’re unwilling to accept help, we make it harder for ourselves. In this case, fortunately, I had an unremarkable recovery. LP helped as much as I would let her the first day, and I spent a lot of that day and the next drifting in and out of naps thanks to my wonderful Administrative Assistant’s insistence that I not even think about coming to work the next day.
But sometimes our wounds don’t heal so easily. Sometimes we really need help.
This time last year, I was wounded in heart. The life I expected to have, however unsatisfactory it may have been in some ways, was ending. My beloved dog had just died, six short weeks after his cancer diagnosis. On Halloween afternoon, I got on a plane and ran away from home for two days, to the dearest people in my life other than my children. They hugged and petted and spoiled and loved me. For a heart wound, there is no better care. I still had to come back to a dog-empty house. But for 48 hours, I let other people take care of me: cook for me, drive me places and amuse me like an old-fashioned convalescent.
This Halloween I’m in the same airport heading to the same destination, and it’s true that after last week’s adventures with a bad tooth and a new old dog who managed to blow out his knee just walking around the block, I’m ready for a little wound care. But this is a different kind. We all have those strains we live with, don’t we? There’s the joint that aches a little from overuse, or the muscle we pull and strain again and tell ourselves we’ll be more careful next time, but then it’s time to knit the sock or rake the leaves or (dreadful!) shovel the October snow, and we’re nursing that chronic wound, again.
One of the conditions with which I live is my own tendency to put too many things on the schedule, and the only cure for that chronic strain and stress is to get out of my normal environment and go someplace different. This is a condition epidemic among pastors. It’s why our denomination recommends, and our congregation offers, time to be used for study away from the daily demands of ministry. Sometimes that means going to a conference as I did this summer, and other times it might mean going on retreat, as my predecessor would do at a monastery.
Jesus got away, too. He took naps in the back of the boat, and he wandered off into the wilderness to pray. In Mark’s gospel, he does it before the end of the first chapter! Jesus regrouped. Sometimes his disciples found it shocking, as when he slept right through a storm that terrified them. Maybe he liked the rocking of the waves.
So the format doesn’t matter as much as finding something recuperative. This week I’ll be working, but I’ll be doing it away from Maine, and away from my house, and away from my dog and my daughter and my laundry and my grocery shopping and the never-ending to-do list of a homeowner. I’ve been offered a work table and a place to rest, and I have a good-sized but not unreasonable list of things I hope to accomplish. I’ll be writing our Christmas Pageant and this Sunday’s Communion Meditation, and planning for Advent and Epiphany (comes after Christmas!) and Lent. I’ve got a theological book to read (“Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace” by Yale Divinity School professor and theologian Miroslav Volf) and a less academic one, too (“Committed: A Love Story” by Elizabeth Gilbert, also the author of “Eat, Pray, Love”). At the end of the day, I’ll have the companionship of loved ones, including dogs and a child, but I won’t be in charge of them!
I expect it will cure what ails me.