Today is my birthday. Decades ago the most beautiful woman in the world labored through her agony, while I labored through my own I suppose, and in the end I had a body and she had a baby. Her sixth baby. And though I was one of many, I never felt neglected, and thankfully I never felt lonely. The woman who gave me birth also taught me priceless lessons about perspective.
When I was a young mother and she lived with us in Pittsburgh, Mom and I took an art class from Mr. Fitzpatrick at Carnegie Museum. We had both taken classes from him before, and we loved his wisdom coupled with his talent. I recall my mother’s hands cradling a charcoal pencil, sketching at the easel beside me. Her lines were graceful and balanced. Mine always overshot the page, and I drew too hard, so that it always showed through after I tried to erase. I stood beside my mother watching her draw a straight horizontal line across the page, marking the vanishing points on the left and right as she prepared to sketch a barn using perspective. As her drawing progressed, the fence posts along the road beside the barn became smaller and smaller, up the page, until they disappeared into infinity. I heard myself whisper, “Everything is relative.” From that point forward I have been blessed to be able to see, in my imagination, the vanishing points in life, making struggles and joys relative, and therefore bearable.
A dozen years ago I became very sick very quickly. The myelin sheaths on my nerves were stripped by a confused immune system, causing quick paralysis to my legs and arms. Boy was it scary! Because we didn’t know what was causing it, I spent days undergoing tests at the University of Utah. Finally, I was diagnosed with Guillain Barre Synrome. With the diagnosis I was handed a stack of papers that included the results of the many tests they had taken to determine what was wrong with me. There were dozens, perhaps hundreds of tests they performed; from blood draws, EMG’s, spinal taps and the like. I looked at that long list of things that could have been wrong with me…and weren’t…and again I whispered “Everything is relative.” Seriously, with the number of things that could go wrong with these machines we call bodies, we should all be dead!
And yet, we’re not. At least not yet. I can now move my legs, and the frozen hands that I feared would never again press their fingertips against the strings of a guitar, are happily frolicking regularly up and down the neck of my beloved instruments. My lower legs and feet, however, have not fully recovered from the trauma and I live with peripheral neuropathy and residual araphlexia (diminished reflexes in my feet). It always hurts to walk. But it’s been this way so long now I don’t notice it too much. However, I easily lose my balance, and have an inordinate fear of tripping up stairs or falling down them because I’m not sure where my feet are or if they are reacting correctly to what’s in front of or under them. Every time I start feeling sorry for myself I whisper “Everything is relative” and I immediately think of my friend Joan who has no legs and I say, “What Joan wouldn’t give to have legs that hurt.” Or I think of my friend Joe who is paralyzed from the neck down.
It is a healthy brain and spirit exercise to remind ourselves, on a regular basis, that everything is relative. Compared to other options, we would almost always opt for what we are given to endure.
Even joy is relative. And hunger, and exhaustion, and all that we experience. I HOPE that the ones I love will have a place on their lips for the statement “Everything is relative” and an eternal eye for perspective.
During the season of Lent I make the personal commitment to write every day. I’ve done this for the past eight years, as a token of devotion and thanks to the Lord for giving me a brain that works (usually). I publish these writings here on my blog, unedited and splattered like wet paint, as a way to share them and to keep them for myself and for my posterity. This year I have decided to ruminate on thoughts, ideas, habits and miscellaneous personal practices I would like to put in a figurative HOPE CHEST to take with me into the rest of my life and the life beyond. Besides that, there are bits of advice I would like to tuck into the HOPE CHESTS of my kids and grandkids.