Chicken Soup for the Black Death
Oct 03, 2011
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.