A woman navigating her way in a large motorized scooter had to maneuver tightly around several people before reaching the elevator, where someone inside the cab was holding the button to keep the doors open for her.
“Sorry,” she said to one person as she moved past. “Sorry,” she said to another as she swerved the other way. “Sorry,” she said again, as she looked at those of us in the elevator.
Finally, tucking her scooter into the elevator with a hair’s breadth to spare, she said, “Thank you.”
A smattering of “no problem” and “don’t worry” lifted softly as the elevator doors closed. And I began to wonder…
I do this, too. I will often find myself saying, “Sorry,” if my illness becomes inconvenient or requires accommodation. I might say, “Sorry,” if I have to reschedule an appointment, or I might also apologize if my slow steps delay someone else’s passage or my allergies or other restrictions put up barriers instead of invitations.
But, why am I and why do others with health challenges apologize for them? And, should we?
Perhaps we apologize because we understand how rude our illnesses and disabilities can be. Perhaps we apologize out of weakness, thinking that we have to say “Sorry” or others will reject us. Or, perhaps we are sorry that our disability causes inconvenience to someone else, however unavoidable it was or is. But perhaps “Sorry” misses a more golden opportunity. Because at one of those moments where our physical limitations meet the public at large (or even a more personal situation) and we need help, an important act of mercy is unfolding. Instead of being remorseful that we are bringing our disability into someone else’s life, for however brief a time, we can be full of gladness and dignity that God has allowed us to be “out and about.” This ability to mingle is a gift we can carry with respect and care. And when we invite others to help us, we are extending the respect to them. We are allowing them to do good things. We are inviting them into our walk, a walk that moves right along in faith with Our Lord.
So, I really don’t think “sorry” is necessary. But “thank you” is. A smile is. A connection as one human person with another. And a breath of a moment where grace can flourish.
Living with a chronic illness is one of the most profound ways to walk closely with Jesus Christ. During Lent, when we contemplate our lives and this season of turning back to the Lord, it is fitting to think of the pain and other health challenges we endure as further proof of the honor we have to live as we do. Those who do not bear this burden might look upon us with pity, think we are “out of touch” with the world, or even wish to marginalize us. But we know better, and we are better.
As children of God, we have a purpose. As people with health problems that color our every waking (and sometimes sleeping) moment, we have experience that can inform our sense of that purpose and, if we allow it to, draw us ever closer to Christ crucified – and the promise fulfilled of the Resurrection.
Yes, at any moment God can relieve us of our illness, cure us of our affliction. But if we wait around for that to happen, we are missing the shining jewel of a gift that is here, now. It is the gift of a journey like no other, and it is the gift of an honor and privilege – to endure pain, to lift it up to heaven, and to feel, in return, incredible, deep love from One who knows.
This Lent, live as if your life is a a very precious honor.
Because it is.
Now that the weather is more moderate, many of us with chronic illness are going outside, to stores, parks and other public venues. Of course, we take with us our “stuff,” whether mobility assistance devices, oxygen, or, in my case, sun protective clothing, head to toe.
After a cooped-up winter, it might feel a little unnerving to be more exposed, in public where “healthy people” abound. So, I think, it is a good idea to keep an eye out for one another and share “the look.”
I became aware of “the look” a few years ago when, in a store, I with my shopping cart encountered someone in a motorized scooter. We had both turned down the same aisle, but therewasn’t much room to maneuver. After both of us going this way and that, we just looked at each other and smiled, knowingly and appreciatively. He knew it was a challenge for me, I knew it was a challenge for him, and so we shared a moment of acknowledgment and humor. “The look.” It helped unite us in compassion for one another, and it helped make the rest of the trudge through the store, when “able-bodied” people were not so kind, easier.
Most recently, I shared “the look” with a woman who got into the same elevator I did, at another store. I had my hat, dark glasses, long-sleeved shirt, pants, and sun-protective gloves on. She had a wheeled walker and oxygen. Both of us gave a little sigh of fatigue as the elevator doors began to close. Then, we exchanged a smile of understanding.
I said, “Isn’t it a beautiful day?”
She replied, “Oh, yes, it is.”
I said, “I couldn’t wait to get out.”
She paused and smiled more broadly. “Neither could I.”
The elevator doors opened. We went our separate ways, lighter in heart.
Once again, “the look” had woven its effect of encouragement!
Joy and peace,
I am very excited about the launch of my upcoming book, Don’t Panic!: How to Keep Going When the Going Gets Tough (available for pre-order now on Amazon.com)! It’s my hope and prayer that the book will help many people, offering ways to develop stronger, more resilient inner spirits and outer stress-relieving techniques so that, when the inevitable crisis occurs, there can be greater calm and much less (or no) panic in the face of them.
And, oh, how this relates to life with chronic illness! Especially when with wave upon wave of symptoms, and flare upon flare of the underlying disease, we might become utterly frustrated and throw up our hands.
Why not panic? is a thought that can take firm hold at that time. And it might even make its way from thought to action, giving us less of a firm foundation upon which to tackle our latest problems.
But, as I detail in Don’t Panic!…, as tempting or easy as it might seem to give into the feeling of utter hopelessness, we are indeed made of stronger stuff than that. And it is this strength that we need to use to lift our lives in turmoil up to God, to seek good strength from Our Lord at times when we believe we ourselves don’t have enough of it.
Yes, we might think, in our humanness, “Why not panic?”
But we’re more than “mere” humans. We are children of God. And as children, beloved and cherished, we can – we must – turn to our Father – and strength will flow into us like a torrent and make it more easy to flow through any crisis.
Joy and peace,