F. Neil Folks: Great love and great suffering – Part 2
I just recently got to experience both sides of the mind and heart space.
I was in Fort Collins for four-day training on Eleven Essential Principles of Mourning. There were 16 of us present.
The Center for Loss and Life’s Transition sits up on a rather steep ridge in front of Horse Tooth Reservoir. The owner and director of the program likes lots of board walks with steps and decks.
It was a bit difficult for me with my present hip condition to move about. I got a taste of what Morrie Schwartz taught Mitch Albom about in his book “Tuesdays with Morrie.”
For those of you who may not know what Morrie died of, he came down in his senior years with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or what is known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It is a brutal, unforgiving disease of the nervous system. It is like a lit candle: It melts your nerves and leaves your body a pile of wax.
It starts in one’s thigh muscles so one cannot support oneself standing. Then loss of the trunk muscles, so that one cannot sit up straight. By the end, if one is still alive, one is breathing through a tube in a hole in the throat, while the spirit, perfectly awake, is imprisoned inside a limp husk, perhaps able to blink, or cluck a tongue, like something from a science fiction movie – a person frozen inside their own flesh, a total invalid.
In the last years, one is completely dependent upon others. Most of us, particularly us macho males, would be embarrassed and very angered by all this, the loss of our image of the perfect body. It means that one cannot go to the bathroom by oneself, bathe oneself, or even able to feed oneself, a total dependent person.
It was a bit difficult at first for Morrie. He had to make the decision “Do I wither up and disappear, or do I make the best of my time left?” He decided not to wither or be ashamed of dying. To make a long story short, Morrie learned that it was quite okay to have people help him. He learned that he could enjoy the journey just like a babe in swaddling clothes. He taught those around him to accept him as he was and that he appreciated their help. It was not received as a handout.
As I’m an advanced student at the center and the center is not set up for those unable to walk, the director and my fellow students were very helpful in seeing to my needs of getting around. They were aware of my previous heart attack and of the open-heart surgery I just had in May, and I was working on getting the hip replaced soon.
A little history about the heart surgery before I go on. I was in the process of getting the hip replaced when heart tests, which were required before the surgery, showed something was awry with it.
To determine what was going on required an angiogram, and that’s when it was discovered that the left aortic artery was 90 percent blocked. I had no clue this was going on. Yes, if I had a good hip to exercise with, I would have noticed the low energy levels that were prevalent. But I didn’t.
This finding came as a complete surprise and even shock to us all. It required surgery soon, or I stood the chance of a major heart attack. I asked the cardiologist about doing a one-stop shop total fix job (double bypass and replacing the aortic valve damaged from a previous heart attack) while I was already here. This was Thursday. By Friday, he got me an appointment with the heart surgeons at 12:30 p.m. By 7 p.m., I had a heart overhaul. If this doesn’t sober one up and make you humble, I don’t know what would. It was quite a shock to this old macho warrior from the wilderness who thought he was in good shape.
Yes, I did humble myself and enjoyed the help from my professor and fellow students. It was quite OK to receive and enjoy the help.
The moral I’m attempting to teach here is that you don’t know what will happen in the next few hours, days or even seconds.
We must learn to appreciate what we have, and love all that is around us in every moment of the now.
There is no need to feel sorry for my loss of good health. I am not the center of the universe but part of something much greater than me. I can always find others worse than myself (go to the Sandrock nursing home). I have learned here to look at old people and realizing, with my own body, that they move stiffly because they hurt.
As Chelsea Collonge pointed out in her writings on the attack of rheumatoid arthritis on her body at the age of 18, she suddenly saw that “uselessness-near-death is actually closeness-to-God! Whatever I can’t do for myself, God can and will do for me.”
As I work in the Detention Center and elsewhere to serve the hurting of body, spirit and mind of others, I’ve discovered that there will be times that I am needy also.
As I creaked and shuffled about the buildings, my companions (or clients as identified in the therapy world) shower me with loving concern – a concern made real by the pain I knew they carried in their own bodies.
They could feel my deep compassion for their frustration; they are burdens which I carried, too.
I’ve taught many an inmate to love again and be loved. It is a gift God gave me to share. I’ve helped them realize that if we love greatly, it is fairly certain we will soon suffer, because we have somehow given up control to another. That is the other side of life that we keep denying.
Fr. Rohr states “Until we love and until we suffer, we all try to figure out life and death with our minds, but afterwards a Larger Source opens up within us and we ‘think’ and feel quite differently.”
Love, he believes is the only way to initially and safely open the door of awareness and aliveness, and then suffering for that love keeps that door open and available for ever greater growth.
They are the two great doors, and we dare not leave them closed.
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