On a frigid Friday night about three years ago, I surrendered.
I spent the evening pacing the subterranean studio apartment where I lived alone, clutching my hair and praying Hail Mary. The pain I had dealt with since my Crohn’s diagnosis a few years prior had taken over my body and mind. The searing sensation in my abdomen was beyond anything I had experienced before. I was terrified. I checked my insurance to ensure ambulance rides were covered and called 911.
During my subsequent hospital stay, I couldn’t eat and didn’t have anywhere to go. My soon-to-be husband drove 3 hours to bring me papers to grade and sit in my hospital room for while. I reviewed the vocal score for a performance I wouldn’t end up singing. And I browsed gardening websites.
It was crazy: I was hooked up to an IV, temps were in the single digits, and unbeknownst to me Boston was about to get covered in 7 feet of snow. My fiancé was moving from another state and we were moving into a new condo with a postage stamp yard three floors below. Gardening should have been the farthest thing from my mind. Yet I huddled under my blankets in my hospital bed and read as much as I could about making things grow.
During my illness I had been forcing myself to flourish, determined to be more than my illness by sheer force of will. The previous summer I dragged myself to a conference in Africa, refusing to turn down such a great opportunity and desperate to prove to myself that I was not worthless, that I could still do things, that I still had something to offer. I pushed myself to teach. I pushed myself to sing. My self-worth was caught up in my refusal to be conquered by illness.
Until one freezing night, I was conquered. The next morning a very nice nurse gave me another dose of morphine and very kindly told me to rest. I did. In that moment I finally accepted that I was sick. I accepted that I couldn’t heal myself. I accepted that I needed help. I no longer needed to be stronger than anything.
Outside of the condo where I have lived with my husband in the three miraculous years of remission I have had since the doctors took me apart and put me back together again, a hardy lavender plant grows. Urban bustle surrounds it: jackhammers, snowplows, pedestrians and mess. And still it grows. It is wiser than I was, because it understands that dormancy is part of life. It doesn’t struggle to flower fully when the environmental deck is stacked against it. It accepts the cold and dark and does what it needs to survive.