At this writing, I am the poster child for Better Living Through Chemistry. If we were to rely on a drug-ad cliche to sum up the post-prescription transformation, one might reach for the old reliable, “I got my life back!”
And that would be nonsense.
I’m not ungrateful, I’m tremendously grateful. I’m thoroughly enjoying this dramatic change in circumstance. I certainly don’t mean to squash the happiness of anyone who’s experienced some similar reprieve. Nor would I ever dismiss the genuine suffering — far greater than anything I’ve experienced — that others endure with no such relief.
But here’s what: My life has been here all along.
It didn’t go anywhere when I was at my sickest. I was living my life. And don’t understand me to mean, “I was finding happiness in small things!” or “I realized that time with my children was such a treasure!” Oh please. I’ve always been easily amused, and I have the bunny ears to prove it. I wouldn’t choose to spend all day every day with my children if I hadn’t treasured them from the get-go.*
My life is bigger than a collection of accomplishments and abilities and happy moments. Laying very still in a big machine in a cold room, praying abbreviated rosaries to pass the time because I can’t keep track of ten Hail Mary’s without beads or fingers, but I can keep track of three? That’s my life. Part of it, anyhow. Doing routine tasks with no music, no singing, because I needed every ounce of concentration to get the work done? Life. My life. Walking oh-so-slowly 1/16th of a mile around the indoor walking track because the little girls want to go run during their sister’s volleyball practice, but no going up on the track without an adult? Mine. All mine.
When you divide your life into the parts that you’ll claim ownership to and the parts that you reject, you steal from yourself. You miss out on a chance to be everything that you could be. Some of the parts no sane man would choose, but there they are, unchosen but endowed all the same. Are you going to live them, or are you going to waste them?
Bigger on the Inside than the Outside
It matters because we are formed by what we do and what we choose. Given our fallen world, what our bodies do reflects our inner lives imperfectly. The effort to pray, poorly, comes out like so much failure when your body is not cooperating. The effort to work, to think, to love, all of it looks like so much worthlessness. And then one day — in this life or the next — suddenly your body behaves itself, and you discover your soul was growing stronger through all that effort. Effort that seemed, like walking uphill on a too-fast treadmill, to be getting you nowhere but miserable.
The paradox of redemption is that every good is to be sought, but no evil is to be wasted. We work, diligently, for what is good. For healing. For an end to poverty. For peace. For the good of souls everywhere. We become more like Christ the more we work for that good. And yet, like Christ, an integral part of our life on earth is making even the evil be good.
*No aspersions being cast on parents who find their children are best treasured as they get on and off the school bus. Lots of ways to treasure those darlings. Mine do well at home. Except when they don’t.
Artwork by Adam Jones, Ph.D. (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons