If you follow this column regularly you may be wondering whether something happened last week that kept me from posting as usual on Sunday. Well, indeed it did!
Last Sunday morning. There I was, on my way to the Refectory for breakfast, intending to make a stop-over in the kitchen to get myself some gluten-free bread. I was going the outside way, around the river side of the building. When I got to the kitchen door, I started up the 3 stairs to the door, put my foot down wrong and missed the middle step. Down I went, which wouldn't have been much of an incident, but I fell slightly to one side and hit my head on the brick wall of the building and ended up flat out on the pavement. Edward, our chef, came dashing out and was the soul of kindness. The only problem was that he was wanting to get me up, and it took a while before I was ready to try that. Then we had to find something to deal with the bleeding, which was quite vigorous, and I needed to get readjusted to being upright. Shock.
Not to keep you in suspense, I ended up with some bruised ribs, a quite mild concussion, and a cut that needed 4 stitches. Oh, and a skinned knee - mustn't forget that piece. I wasn't in the mood for writing for quite a few days. I guess everyone gets to the point in life when they finally realize that a fall is not a small thing, and I certainly learned that lesson last Sunday morning. I was very, very fortunate, because even with all that happened, it wasn't a terribly serious event, and with just a bit different fall it could have been. I've healed quite rapidly: the symptoms of the concussion were gone by the end of the day, the stitches came out on Friday and the doctor is satisfied with the wound's healing, and even the ribs, which I know usually take weeks to get better have come along quite nicely - still some pain, but this morning I stopped taking the pain medication and I'm doing fine. But I surely know that I have been through something, and that I have a way to go.
So.... I should say something spiritual, yes? After all, this column is supposed to be about the life of a monk and how the spiritual path runs through everything that happens. So how did it run through this particular happening?
Well, first of all I think of the caretakers I encountered that morning. First, there was Edward, who was so kind and attentive. That was such a help, to have that while I was still trying to get up off the fround. Then let me say that I can't say enough good things about the Emergency Room at Vassar Brothers Hospital in Poughkeepsie. They have a sign over their door about how highly their patients have rated them, and if I am counted, their rating will only go up. It's actually a pleasant pleasant place to be. I didn't have to wait long. And the staff was, without exception, kind and caring.
They got me cleaned up and determined that I had no major problems but that I needed stitches. In short order a young Physician's Assistant appeared and did the stitches. I felt nothing. Nothing. Which is exactly what I wanted to feel in that situation. Bernard, who was with me and in a somewhat better state to be objective, said that it was a real pleasure to watch the PA work because he was such a craftsman. He is a true healer. I've written before about how akin the path is for meditators and for people who practice a craft, and I experienced all of that, with a layer of cheer, concern and kindness added to it. What more could I have asked? We are called by the Gospel to care for each other, and I experienced real caring. God was in the middle of that, and it was clear. When Bernard said to the PA that we would pray for him in his ministry he was obviously rather startled and also quite pleased. Then I was sent on my way with detailed paperwork explaining about caring for the laceration and the concussion, and promising all kinds of support if I needed it.
And..... you may not believe this part of it, but I was there for less than 2 hours, and they apologized to me for taking so long! When I think of the times I've spent in emergency rooms, well, this was quite different.
This whole incident has also awakened my awe and wonder at the body's healing mechanisms. No sooner had I fallen, than my body swung into action, marshaling all the things it needed to begin healing the various parts of my body that had been assaulted. I think I'm particularly aware of this because my healing has been so rapid. Day by day it was obvious that my body was hard at work on this project, and I could see and feel what was happening. That is just plain awesome. And awe is one of the things that is necessary for a spiritual life. You can't see God without awe, and conversely, experiencing awe does open you to the divine. So this week opened me a bit more to the depths that the spiritual paths leads me through.
And the Psalms - the good old Psalms - opened up a bit more. There's quite a bit of complaining in the Psalms about what happens to the body. Lots of crying out to God about my strength failing, my body feeling like there is no healthy part in me, and the experience of dragging myself through the days because of one sickness or another. Usually those phrases go by me without too much response on my part, but not this week. And this is one of the biggest gifts the Psalms have to give us; there is nothing in human experience that isn't prayed in them. It serves, for one thing, as a powerful reminder - oh yes, I may be miserable, but I can pray that stuff. I may be suffering, and it may be hard to pull my mind together to pay attention, and I may not want much attention anyway, because it makes me aware of the unpleasant things that I'm feeling, but I really can pray that. I don't have to just endure it. It can be part of the link between God and me. "Though my heart and my flesh should fail, God is my help and my portion forever." I kept that on my mirror at one time in my life when I was going through a long illness. And it came back to be with me this week.
Wherever you go on this path, some awakening, some deepening awaits. Not that it's all going to be joyful or fun, but we can just consent to being opened. Just doing that is enough for the Spirit to enter, and then some transformation is possible.
It's also nice to have come far enough to be feeling pretty good again!