I beg you to realize: I am not in bondage to sickness, nor am I beholden to her. The only thing which binds me whatsoever is myself, and that only by consent. I confess there are many times when that consent is given and I know it not. It is rather like Dante’s Nessus: I make a gallows for myself of my own house.
But the gallows that I build, I may also tear down. The chains that I forge, I may tear away and destroy. It is plain to think that disease so difficultly oppresses, but that is the deceit of pain. I think of Christ, who bore pain to the redemption of all, and I leave my complaints behind. It can be a conduit for great things, this suffering. I choose to trust in that.
It is also a matter of survival. For if there is any moment in which the true nature of humanity is revealed, it is in abundant suffering. Pain may subsist and ruin us, but not altogether put us in the grave. Not yet. And we have two choices: let it wreak us havoc in ways emotional and physical, or befriend it and make of it a someways-happy thing.
You’ll see I’m not a doctor, nor do I have methods for alleviating suffering in a physical sense. But I am confident in my faith and in my purpose. For what ever did a man accomplish who suffered poorly, boasting of his pain until the day he died? No such man has been remembered, save as an example of one to forget. The careful and considerate man is the one who remains in our greater consciousness: leaning on a strength not his own to abide the pain and use it for good. For in living we may act on good and speak good; it is a waste of life to give it over to pain. This is what I mean by survival.
And it is in this grace-filled moment that not only his weakness becomes known to him, but the manner in which greater good works through him. It is merely a matter of opening the doors to let in those benevolent powers. And yet, as creatures of control and boundary, we scarcely do such a thing—even as we lay tormented on the brink of death. We would rather be God and fumble, than be human and saved.
Please do not mistake my words for criticisms. Who am I to talk so ardently of the ill when I myself have not been so sick ever in my life? What do I know of the proximity of death? But I may one day know, and I have already seen her in others, so that it stirs within me the possibilities of that fateful day when I must choose between adopting strength and clutching fast to my own egotistical weakness.
But more than just for me, I commend these thoughts to you—all of you. I have no imagination for the summons of death, but I think it does not fear me. Not, that is, if it is accepted with grace not our own, with strength not our own, with, as it stands, a vision for life outside oneself. If there has never been such a revelation in life, then it will come on the road to death. Even though it may never be shared before the passing.
Moreso: I would admit how innocent is the sickness we demonize and readily malign. What is disease but a function of a foreign sort of life, found in the wrong place at the wrong time? It is nonetheless a life, and with that we have much in common. Though it destroy us, it does not do so wantonly. And therefore, recognizing the fundamental nature of the life of disease, we may perhaps befriend her—and let her reign, as she is sometimes wont to do, or give her cause to disappear and return us to full health. It is a peculiar way to look at illness, I admit, but not unreasonable. Perhaps it is even a path to reconciliation with sickness, whether it lead to death or to a long and arduous convalescence.
Know that I tell myself these things as I tell them to you. For it helps to share in this common character of our humanity, and to confess confusion when the goodness of life as we know it is cut quite short and we endure in darker days. C.S. Lewis once wrote of these things, though I doubt his answers were very satisfying. It came to him in his grievance, and the way in which death affected his living world.
If we are thoughtful and open, we could see it another way: that in living is always death, and in death always life. It is merely our definitions that obstruct this happy truth. And though we are thoroughly gifted at obstructions, perhaps we can take these walls down?