Thursday, February 18, 2016

Staying Close to Normal

Illness is such a thief.  It steals so many pieces of your life -- time, safety, even intimacy.  It separates you from the "healthies" -- those who don't even know what a privilege it is to take their body for granted; those who don't couch every invitation with, "If I'm feeling well enough...."

Sylvia Plath's character, Esther, in her miraculous book The Bell Jar, describes her episodes of madness as feeling as if she were trapped inside an airless jar that distorts her view of the world and interferes with her ability to connect with others.

I've often felt that my pain condition was my bell jar, forcing me into a box too small and too rough to accommodate my real life.  As if I still had a real life, an experience apart from illness.

Yet as much as I mourned my losses, the very fact that I mourned kept me tied to the experience of normalcy.  I could not travel to Paris.  I could grieve for the loss of Paris.  Yet I kept thinking about Paris.  And deep, deep inside, without language or image, a part of me quietly hoped I would once again walk those majestic streets.

Ironically, that secret longing for Paris kept me in life.  It kept me tied to normal.  And that tie, like the thread Ariande gave her beloved Theseus so he could find his way out of the Minotaur's labyrinth, helped me find my way out of the box, sometimes.  The streets and smells and tastes and beauty of Paris were still alive in my imagination and in my memory -- beyond the reaches of illness.

In September of this year, Richard and I spent ten days in Paris.  He understood what it meant for me to be there.   And his understanding sweetened the experience.

What ties you to normal?  What people, memories, experiences, dreams help you know that you are in life, and not inside that bell jar?

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