The night before my 61st birthday, I got sick. I got a kind of stomach flu, usually a 24 hour sort of illness that dragged on for days. I had meds to keep me from getting dehydrated, but I couldn’t eat for several days. I was very weak and unstable. Somewhere in the midst of the brain fog, I knew I shouldn’t be entirely on my own. But I didn’t have any idea how to ask for help. So I slept a lot. And slowly I got better. But I didn’t bounce back. I still feel like parts of my brain are offline.
Usually after an illness, I get a burst of energy, but it didn’t happen this time. In fact, I was ready to check out assisted living situations. And I did. They were all too expensive. And I’m afraid if I get into a subsidized facility, if we have another lockdown, I’ll be totally isolated from my friends and family. So now I’m beginning the process of getting some at home assistance.
I talked to a few friends about it and they were so kind and generous to me. Lots of helpful advice and offers of support. They will help me navigate into the next phase of my life, which I think may have started before I got sick, I just didn’t notice it.
There’s always been this force inside me that prodded me forward to goals. I’m not one to sit inside myself too long without coming up with a project to keep me afloat. Creativity has always been my life line. I’ve changed goals a million times, and necessarily met them, but I always wanted to make things — stories, fabric art, art. Oh art, so flexible and infinite in it’s variety, so many shiny heights to aspire to, so many golden paths to wander my way out of my struggles with my body.
But this time, the thought of getting back to my creative work exhausted me. A 20×24″ canvas seems huge. The way I tend to the paint and brushes, the cleaning and mixing rituals, none of that holds the charm it did. It feels strange, but I’m not sure I’m going to cling to my work the same way that I did before. The work is not work, should not be work, but a sublime journey, with difficulties, for sure, but it’s a way up and out of the challenges of mortality. To think in color, to capture a vision, an image — to tell a story — it’s a moment of transcendence. Of joy. But it’s hard, too. It feels quite difficult now.
While I recovered from the worst of my illness, but was still sick, I wrote in my journal about the frustration of life in pain, of all the roads in my life that have lead to weakness, but within that song of despair, I kept asking is there a way of finding joy. Both a centering emotion and my name. I don’t want the illness to take my identity, my joy.
Then I felt a shift, thinking how fortunate I am to be settling into this new state of limits, when actually, a limitless world is still available to me. Media technology may be a mixed blessing, but it allows me easy access to the entire world. I can see the whole of the planet through the window of my computer, my reading device, my phone, even. I can go places that, even if I were healthy, I could never get to. I started watching travel videos. Let me see the scope of this blue planet before I leave it.
I can text friends. I can call for help in the middle of the night. I’m not alone. I just have to train myself to remember that and ask for help.
I keep choosing life. It’s a sad old world, and so beautiful. So full of magic. A friend came over and we crossed my street to watch chimney swifts do their amazing dance as they descend into an old brick chimney for these September and October nights. There’s a big pipework project on my street that’s developed to the point where it’s impossible to get across without walking a block over, where there’s a break in construction. There are a couple of men living rough in that little park now, and I’m still in my wobbly loaner wheelchair, so I don’t feel safe going across the street on my own. (The men are obnoxious at times, but mostly stay to themselves.)
I can see the swifts from my porch, but getting closer, I see the dance so much more clearly. Sometimes, at dusk, the birds seem to just pop out of sky. It’s clear sky, then a full flock of 50 birds fly in and start circling the chimney, on or two dropping in. It’s a pleasure to watch, and also to hear the little gasps of delight from my friend. The swifts fly in a circle so big they disappear and reappear again until they all finally make it into their night shelter, sleeping with their claws clutching the walls, hanging on for dear life.
Dear life. I want to sketch that one day soon. Not today. But soon.
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