The other night, unexpectedly, a flash of pain in my stomach made me bolt up in bed. An old hand at GI issues, I knew the pain was further “upstream” than previous intestinal pain; and the combination of familiar and unfamiliar sensation troubled me.
I twisted a bit and peeled off a layer before I launched into the panicked pacing that was routine on my most painful nights during Crohn’s flares. Eventually my husband stirred and asked what was wrong. When I told him he asked me twice, incredulously, “Are you sure there is nothing wrong with your breathing?
I had been hyperventilating since I sat up in bed.
The pain wasn’t debilitating, and it eventually passed. But having been down that road before I was rattled by the prospect of what might come next. The ambulance ride, tight seat belt over swollen gut; groaning enough in triage to be moved to the front of the line; observing the rest of the ER patients through the fog of painkillers; first appointment of the day with imaging; answering the same questions five or six times as the medical teams switched shifts, trying to explain why someone “young and healthy” like me is in the ER.
I didn’t need the ER the other night, but when I imagined that timeline my anxiety spiked and my breathing escaped my control.
About two years ago we moved into a house I expect to live in for a very long time. I was sad on the last night in our condo, nostalgic at saying goodbye to the early years of our marriage. As I dozed off in our packed-up bedroom I thought of the memories our new house would soon share.
Every funeral of someone I love for the rest of my life, I will go home to that house.
What a bizarre thought, and I blush sharing it. For a few moments all I could ponder was how this old Victorian would hold the balance of my life’s grief.
“Don’t borrow trouble” – I repeat this phrase often to myself. I’ve tried to live by Jesus’s message in Matthew 6 to not worry about tomorrow, but I struggle mightily when I know – or think I know – what is coming.
That’s why every Labor Day, as a few beautiful weeks still like in front of us, I get preemptively sad about the leaves turning, which makes me sad because cold weather is coming, which makes me sad because someday I and everyone I love will be cold and dead in the ground.
Most oft us are anxious right now because we know what is coming this winter. A spike in COVID cases, more restrictions, more caution, missing family, fewer hugs, less singing. Maybe the death of someone close, maybe our own serious illness. We’ve been here before.
Sometimes, though, it’s just indigestion. Sometimes the autumn sun surprises us. Sometimes it’s not as bad as we predicted.
Even when it’s terrible there’s a sliver of beauty in enduring, in the grace with which we emerge from hardship, in the words we find to describe our trials, in the commitments that see us through. It may be just as bad as we can predict or it may defy expectations, but the struggle we see coming may not change us as much as we change it – into something meaningful, something our own.