I caught a cold, or a flu, or THE BLACK DEATH or something last Friday. I noticed it at about 2PM, which meant by the time I got home I was ready for bed. I hate, hate, hate being sick, and I was determined to kick it by Monday, so bed is pretty much where I stayed all weekend.

When I used to work in a Catholic bookstore, there was a book I always saw (but never picked up) called Why Squander Illness? The idea, I assume, is that sickness is an opportunity for prayer, reflection, that passive purification stuff I talked about last Friday, and a little bit of redemptive suffering. An invitation to draw closer to God.

So obviously, I hunkered down in front of my laptop, finished the last few episodes of Angel, and proceeded to watch an entire freaking season of Breaking Bad.1

The problem is that being sick makes it very hard to pray. Praying comes naturally when you’re feeling great, or when some mountain vista or life-changing conversation fills you with awe and gratitude. Not so much when you’re lying in your own sweat, choking on mucus, and wishing your throat hurt less so you could toss more pills down it.

I fully admit to my wimpiness where sickness is concerned. Forget offering it up, I usually can’t even quit groaning for long enough to mutter a Hail Mary or two. I wrote a bitchy email to Sal about all this, and he responded with a story from a priest he knows:

Fr. [x] told us once that he visited a friend in the hospital and his friend said something to the effect that he felt guilty that he had all this time in bed with which he could be praying but instead he just kept lying there feeling horrible, and Father just said, “You ARE praying. Even if you don’t remember to offer up the suffering, that’s still who you are.” So. For whatever it’s worth.

Thanks, Sal, it was worth a lot.2 It reminds me of that bit in Richard Wilbur’s The Mind Reader:

Is there some huge attention, do you think,
Which suffers us and is inviolate,
To which all hearts are open, which remarks
The sparrow’s weighty fall, and overhears
In the worst rancor a deflected sweetness?
I should be glad to know it.

God might be our harshest judge; he’s got the material, or the evidence, since he knows the malice in our actions even when we hide it from ourselves. But the implication in the passage above is that he is also our most merciful judge, because he knows the sweetness in us. We hide that from ourselves, too.

Pride acts on the heart in equal and opposite ways. It makes us interpret our actions in the best possible light, because it convinces us that we can’t possible be that bad. But it can also make us interpret our sins in the worst possible light, because it convinces us that if we’re sinners, we must be AMAZINGLY AWFUL sinners.

No such luck. My vices are as puny as my virtues. I’m like a child, and it never shows up more than when I’ve got a nasty cold.

Good thing God likes children.

1 Which is a REALLY GOOD SHOW. At least in the sense of being morally serious, narratively cohesive, tightly (nay, Sophoclesianically!) plotted, beautifully shot, and masterfully acted. It also includes fairly explicit sex scenes, a lot of graphic gore, and some shocking brutality. So. Not for you if you don’t like that kind of thing. Maybe not for anybody. I’m still working that one out.
2 Dear Sal, I hope you don’t mind that I cannibalized your email, just a little bit, do you? I hope not. I’ll try to ask next time.

9 thoughts on “Chicken Soup for the Black Death

  1. B

    Love! Especially as a woman who HATES pregnancy and is struggling through her fifth. I forbade everyone from praying to any Patron Saint of self mortification withou realizing, um, Jesus and Mary? are, um, about that too? Oops. So now my prayers look like this:

    God, help me feel better, or give me the strength to endure, but mostly help me feel better…

    Reply
  2. Dante

    Well I hate to be a dissenter in this bed of suffering sans conscious prayer BUT…I pray better when I am sick or in some kind of suffering, be it moral, physcial…at least perhaps its better to say I pray more honestly and cut out any introductory or explanatory bullshit. I get right to the heart of things and yeah I probably bitch and moan a bit but then so do some of the Psalms.

    Reply
  3. Ron

    For me, the most humbling thing about being sick is knowing that the world, or more specifically, my workplace, my friends, my neighborhood, etc. can and do exist quite well without me, thank you very much.

    And have no fear about not being able to pray when you’re sick. At times like these, the Spirit “intercedes with inexpressible groanings” (Romans 8:26). That’s good, because when I’m sick I moan and groan a lot.

    Reply
  4. lori

    Going a little off-topic, your thoughts about Breaking Bad were interesting to me. I started watching it when it was new, but the growing brutality has made me stop watching. I kind of debate that show with my friend (along with Dexter). Are those shows rationalizing evil? My friend says Breaking Bad is not – we see the awful consequences of Walt’s decisions. But sometimes I felt like it was “calling evil good.”

    So those are my morning ponderables :) I hope you’re feeling better!

    Reply
  5. Ron

    Thanks, Dante. I never heard of this devotion before. Yes, depression and anxiety seems to be an issue with so many people these days.

    Reply
  6. Patrick

    Just started reading. This made me laugh. It’s good to know there’s another gay catholic out there who’s “feeling fine”. Cheers, Steve.

    Reply
  7. Ron

    This is very appropriate. I saw this on my Peanuts “Page-A-Day” calendar. It’s a dialogue between Linus and Lucy:

    Linus: I don’t know about this
    Lucy: You want to see the common cold stamped out, don’t you?
    Linus: Well, yes, but…
    Lucy: You want to see medical science advanced, don’t you? Lie
    down on the sidewalk!
    [Linus is now lying on the sidewalk]
    Lucy: All right, now cough
    Linus: Cough! Cough! Cough!!
    [Lucy stomps her feet in front of Linus’s face]
    Lucy: There’s a batch of cold germs that will never bother
    anyone again!

    Feel better soon, Steve.

    Reply

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