In my hand are a couple of long, stiff, green-yellow palm fronds. They don’t wave easily by themselves, so I move my hand, as stiff as the palm fronds, to make them sway as they might have centuries ago, when Jesus entered Jerusalem. The movement of my hand stirs up pain in my wrists, a reminder of the arthritis there, and I nearly lose my grip on the fronds. Sitting, then standing, then sitting at the beginning of the service is a struggle as stiffness and soreness make such movement challenging. During the reading of the gospel telling of Our Lord’s Passion and death on the Cross, when we in the congregation are asked to kneel, I try, wince at the pain radiating from my knees devoid of cartilage, and manage a quasi-bow, going only so far so as to avoid an incident of choking or worse due to my several esophageal problems. During the aprt of the Mass where we are to give one another the Sign of Peace, I smile, but avoid touching others to try to keep from exposing myself to germs, a greater possibility the longer I am on my immunosuppressive medication regimen. My friends smile back, understanding. Strangers may or may not be so kind, even in church, but I try not to let some disappointed or affronted stares take me out of the service to a place of frustration.
When the service ends, I chat a little with friends and then make for home, the fronds still in my hand. They will take their place in a vase with others now brittle and blanched of color. Rminders of past years of similar pain, but also profound hope.
Palm Sunday, as with other religious services we attend, can be particulalry painful for us. But as we suffer through, we are also uniquely positioned to be close to Jesus, who suffered even more for us, among us. And as we move through the readings and the ritual, we can focus on Our Lord’s Passion in a particularly poignant way: For every twinge we feel, we are even more in communion with Jesus. And we know that the pain of His suffering is not an end – for Him or us. It is a brilliant, and hopeful beginning,
If you’re like me, this week has been particularly exhausting, not just because of illness symptoms and all things medical, but also because of the time change we experienced last weekend (I know some of you might live in areas immune to the time change – lucky you!). For some reason, I had a very hard time adjusting to the hour difference, by turns experiencing good energy and then absolute exhaustion. Quite difficult to handle when trying to accomplish anything – including laundry! But quite instructive on how important “giving in” to the tired feeling is – not “giving up,” but acknowledging the fatigue for what it is and, at those crucial times, recognizing that being one with the sofa or comfy chair is often the best and most healthful thing to do!
It can be frustrating to have external influences compound our ever-present fatigue, that bone-numbing sense of heaviness and brain fog that can take over many hours of the day. But beyond the temporary trouble (and, yes, eventually I and probably you adjust to the time change), there is some value in learning the lesson of self-care all over again. As we follow our doctors’ guidance and prescriptions for our particular health situations, we also can be mindful that they are not able to visit us at home and order us to rest – that part of living with a chronic illness is up to us. And as we take this lesson to heart, we can enjoy knowing that God’s love wraps around us, bringing us comfort of the spirit.
And we can, eventually, feel rejuvenated!
Joy and peace,
We hear about it from our doctors, physical therapists, and other medical professionals. And we certainly get regular updates and encouragement from the media: Find some way to exercise! Work with your doctors to develop a plan! Understand that you’ll feel better! Find the time to get in that 15 minuts/30 minutes/etc. of exercise x-times a week.
Oh, how this can be much easier said than done! Many people I know (myself included, sometimes) find it difficult to get regular, effective exercise during busy times (which seem to be more prevalent these days). I think this is not so much because of an aversion to exercising, but it is because we often don’t take into account the totality of what goes into regular exercise – how much time it really takes.
I’m not against exercise, of course – I appreciate its great benefits. And I do believe we who have chronic illness and pain must work with our medical teams to find what’s right for each of us. But, it’s that time element that can be tricky and difficult to manage, expecially if the “medical team” consists of multiple docs that we see on a regular basis.
For example, “15 minutes” of exercise sounds brief and doable in anyone’s schedule. But, if we have to wear “proper” clothing, including supportive shoes, be awake enough to not trip over our feet – and relaxed enough to not strain ourselves, warm up and cool down, and get the most out of the elements of the exercise. If the time parameter of the exercising is increased, so too are the preparation and after-time. It’s not unthinkable to have a half-hour become an hour or more! If we have to drive someplace to accomplish out exercise goals, the commute adds more time to that we already are going to dedicate to the activity. And if we happen to be the kind of person who becomes a veritable fountain of perspiration as soon as the heart rate goes up, we have to add time for proper hygiene afterward – or suffer social stigmatizing from relatives, friends, and even the family pet!
I try to schedule my exercise time much as I would my doctors’ appointments and medical tests, allowing for the “before” and “after,” too. I also have worked with my medical team to figure out what activity is appropriate on “good” days and “bad” days (we have to understand our bodies and how flares and other symptoms fluctuate to benefit from any exercise). Understanding how much total time it takes for me to accomplish any particular form of exercise helps tremendously in achieving what my docs and I hope to accomplish.
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.