I was going through some old files on my computer trying to make a little more space on my hard drive... I'm a bit of an obsessive picture taker/scrapbooker, so computer space is a valued commodity. I had a folder that was marked as college writings, and I went through them one by one, reading and deleting files that held old English papers I can't believe produced good grades. Boy would I analyze books differently now that I've actually lived a little.
I came across this file, which was not a paper for a class. When I started reading I went back in time like it was yesterday. It was the spring of 1997 and I was finally about to graduate from college. I didn't have a physical diagnosis yet and I was trying to finish up classes while working part time at an advertising agency. I was in pain all of the time and trying to push past it to continue the life I was trying to make for myself.
Most of the time back then I was able to grit my teeth and deal with the emotional rollercoaster I was on, trying to map out what my new future was going to look like. I knew how I was supposed to be handling it, but the stability or acceptance I feel today was still a long way away back then. It was hard for me to read it, but I'm going to share it with you so you don't think I got sick and immediately jumped to acceptance with this. There were moments when my spirit hurt so much more than my body, and the night I wrote about back then was the worst of them.
I was attending a Wednesday night Mass at St. Stephen's, which was a weekly ritual for my friends and me. I was in too much pain to sit in the pews, so I sat in a comfortable, over-stuffed chair in the lobby and watched Mass from there. The first line to the opening song was "Sing to the Lord with shouts of joy..." and that night it was simply more than I could take. So the following is my low point back in 1997, and reading it makes me wish I could go back and tell that girl that her health would get worse, but her spirit would be fine.
"Sing to the Lord with shouts ... " But the "of joy" part was never really heard. I watched. I listened. And I felt such an ache inside of my heart I thought it might stop right there and then. I think it's what people call despair. That feeling of being so alone when there are so many people near you that you wonder if you will ever experience joy again.
It all seemed like the cruelest joke anyone could play. I was listening as the guitars and piano thundered in together as though they were connected. And a feeling of exuberance and anticipation consumed the chapel with the filling breath, turned in a moment to a song. Their voices sang. The cantor laughed at someone in the fourth pew who must have come in at the wrong time -- or was simply so happy it was catching. Friends turned around to say hello to each other and everyone in the chapel was a community. A community of support, of understanding, of believers. What should have been an inspirational scene, I am ashamed to say, left me alone and panic-stricken.
Alone. I was there with all of them, yet very separate. It was as if I was watching on a big screen t.v., big enough to be true to life. But I was in my easy-chair watching it happen to other people. I was alone in the lobby seeing, but not feeling, that connection… that wonderful sense of being and celebrating Christ with one another. I wouldn't exactly call it a Christian attitude. Actually, I would call it self-absorbed. But as they sang with shouts I cried with tears and I cried alone. I couldn't breathe and all I could hear over and over in my mind was "Sing to the Lord with shouts ... "
Shouts. I wanted to shout. I even wanted to shout to the Lord. The part that scared me was what I wanted to say. I had worked for so long at accepting and trusting that what has happened to me will work out. That it will have its purpose and somewhere I am growing and learning to be a better person. But in that moment I simply wanted to know why. Trust? Have a deeper faith? Why me, why now, and why in this way? I had just watched over eighty people taking part in something that used to be my life. I watched them in those split seconds feel that connectedness that reminds us continuously of why we are all on this earth — to be witnesses to one another.
Witnessing. I guess that's the one thing I've tried to do with my pain. I tried to be the best little invalid that I could be. But as I sat there crying so hard I couldn't breathe and praying with all my might and sincerity to please, please have my life back, I wondered where all of this had really taken me. I prayed so hard for the feeling in the pit of my stomach to go away. I begged to feel nothing rather than feel this. I felt as though I was grieving for something somewhere. But I didn't know what it was. Just something. Just who I used to be. Just how I used to feel. And even though I prayed with my entire being, the feeling was still there. I knew I had to get a hold of myself. I had to get away.
Away. But where could I go? I thought of my apartment but it was too much of a reality. I needed a cabin in the woods where no one could find me. Where I could go until this feeling was gone and my acceptance was back. I didn't want to see anyone who knew me. I didn't want to see pain in anyone's eyes when they saw my pain. It's like a mirror reflection that is sometimes comforting because I know they care and sometimes terrifying when it becomes reality that this is happening to me, and that I cause this pain for others. In time I calmed down enough to reason with myself. I had just panicked. It would be better later.
Panic. I guess that pretty much sums it up. I can go along and do my best to do what's right, but in the end there is always that panic that reminds me of what I had and what I want back. It stares me in the face on that big screen t.v. that's big enough to be true to life. And I can't run from it. So what's left? I can pray.
Pray. Pray for more faith. Pray for more trust. Pray for forgiveness in this self-absorbed weakness when I should learn to be grateful instead of beating myself up for being less than what I was. Pray that somewhere in this I stop grieving for that something somewhere. Pray that I can be faithful to the struggle and become whatever He chooses for me. Pray that in the end, when I look back on this struggle, I will be grateful I had the chance to panic — because hopefully, it will help me discover peace.