It happens. One day you are healthy, experiencing all of the mundane travails of life thinking this is good that is bad, but essentially clueless, when suddenly you enter your shadow. You are very sick. Family, friends, lover all fade from focus leaving you in the center of an empty ache. With me it started with a doctor's unintentional push down Jacob's ladder when he recommended a contraindicated medication. My stairway to heaven morphed into a descent to hell.
I don't know how many people in this country are seriously ill, but functioning, never mind the souls of billions who collectively inhabit planet and imaginations. I began to be aware of a shared fate only after my inelegant entrance into life's dark silhouette that tugs at us all. That began in 2008. Literally, one day healthy, the next, practically dying. I know now that I am not unique in this regard. Since that first day I have met many others radiating grey.
I was angry. This doctor, this stranger who I had never met before (nor since) -- how could he make me so sick? Who gave him the right to have such power? I was furious for a long time. Like a wounded dog, I frantically tried to understand what was happening to my body. I kept functioning. For decades I had witnessed and admired animals surviving against all odds. Now I was that animal. I didn't admire anything about myself. Only later did I recognize that this was the biggest gift I had ever received. Ah, the kindness of strangers! Even strange doctors.
I was forced to search within. I wasn't getting any help from the medical establishment. No one cared or believed me, except for my partner who understood the profound consequence of my status and became desperate to keep me breathing. I did not understand. My mask of disbelief prevented me from understanding. There is nothing heroic about being ill. I simply wish to keep breathing. I am a coward. I cannot begin to count the nights when the excruciating, 24-hour pain made me fantasize about a quick exit.
But then I told you this was a gift. How crazy is that? This crazy. Being this ill is being disempowered. Doctors, friends, even the people in the supermarket who stare at you, all believe you are going to die. Some say it out loud. Many think it. Some delight that it's someone else and not them. Those people find it difficult to hide their celebration. There was only one thing I could do and that was begin my empowerment. I did not awaken and say, "Ok, Jack, you are going to be powerful today," in spite of all the bad news, pain and suffering that is engulfing my core.
I surreptitiously move toward life. It is hidden from my thoughts. I am not mindful. I am mindless.
The first thing I sought was a healer, preferably an M.D. who had access to many levels of healing. I was drawn to traditional Chinese medicine ("TCM"), which is essentially acupuncture and herbs. Then you realize that the medicine is only as good as the practitioner. And I understood that my doctor had his own agenda.
Then you do your own research. My partner, who is quite brilliant, frantically researches my condition. She even has visions. But nothing works. I fast. I eat. I exercise. I meditate. In short I do everything I can to feel better to not feel pain.
I can't tell you when I realized that what I was going through was a spiritual awakening. I am not cool. I am awkward. I am pudgy, curly-headed and from the Bronx, a very unhip origin. I have indulged in an art form that made me a better person, but I cannot tell you if I made the art form better. I blunder, I get angry, I get happy. In short, I am human. Nothing less. Nothing more. Despite my average place on the continuum, I somehow began to understand that nothing outside could heal me and that my body was showing me one singular image -- pay attention!! I had lived in my head for decades and now I could no longer afford to do so. One thing about spiritual journeys is that they are not sexy. They are not brilliant. I did not become peaceful. Nor groovy, cool. On the contrary -- as I careened from one crisis to another, I became more agitated. Nevertheless, against all odds, within my walls I was slowing down. I noticed. Chaos segued into patterns of meaning. And although the pain remained and at times my biology seemed to have a mind of its own, the one thing I learned was that I could control my thoughts, my vision. Empowerment.
Suffering made me a better father. Made me a better partner. Made me a better brother. Suffering has made me better and I resent the shit out of this path. I believe with all that I know and experienced that we choose our paths. I, like billions of others, chose mine(d) in a senseless manner. Yet, this has been my path and designed for me alone. Ironically, this unique trail has made me acutely aware of everything that I share with all of life, whether that be other people, nature, the solar system and beyond. I breathe with some comfort knowing that is true. And please understand, when I say knowing, I do not mean something I have read in some nouveau new age book, or experienced at the feet of a great teacher (although I have been blessed in this regard), but rather knowing from my quotidian experience. Life is my master.
Still, there is only one thing that makes sense in life. Joy. That's it. We get glimmers of this whenever we laugh, love, eat a good meal, look in the eyes of our children, our lovers, our pets. Then it goes away. That is the paradox. It has taken tremendous suffering, two near-death experiences to bring me to this simple conclusion. Joy. I hurt. I sit. Wait.
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