Many years ago, I got sick, and I stayed sick for a long time. Not long after I got married and we had our first baby. Little by little, the illness overcame me and I had to stop working. We hoped if I took a week off, I could get better. Then a month. Surely two months, right? Perhaps if I took the entire semester off...At the time we were living in family housing on campus, so I had to keep going to school or we would lose our housing, which was much, much less expensive than anywhere off-campus. I stayed registered but, given my health situation, could not do much. Every semester was cycle of slow failure. It was a grim time for me--and my wife, who in her twenties was suddenly a young mother and a caretaker of an invalid husband. Our two children were too young to know anything was wrong, but we worried enough for the two of them. I was sick and not getting better. There was no end in sight, and truly, no hope.
Doctors had not been able to help--including high-priced specialists in a different part of the country. With increasing desperation, we tried every form of well-intentioned healing we could lay our hands on: herbs, acupuncture, energy healing. Nothing helped. I got worse and worse. Finally, I could only leave the house in a wheelchair.
By Thanksgiving, the semester had progressed far enough that I was clearly and irretrievably behind in school. With perpetual optimism, I registered anew each semester, then, as the semester went on, got behind and had to take "Withdrawals" or "Incompletes," which can quickly become the academic equivalent of a payday loan--you can get hopelessly behind with those. But I had no choice, since our housing was tied to carrying a full-time academic load.
These were the bleakest of bleak days, everything covered with any ashy blanket of despair. All I touched seemed to crumble into dust.
I remember going to my parent's house for Thanksgiving. Most of the day is a blur. One symptom of the illness was cognitive problems--a very real "brain fog." They tried to teach us how to play a fun new game called Phase Ten. I couldn't play; the rules were simply too complex for me to understand. I remember the look on everyone's faces. They thought maybe I was joking when I said I couldn't understand, but I really couldn't. It was terrifying.
One bright spot was my mother's family delivering a large care package to us. We had always been a tight-knit extended family, and their kindness brightened things up. But they couldn't fix what was really wrong, nor could they stem the obvious disaster that was coming for my own little family.
I will tell the rest of the story another time perhaps. But the short version is that a miracle happened: an honest, to goodness, bona fide miracle.
Many years later, I sit here today overwhelmed with goodness of my life. It's quiet here today, just as I like it. Three more children eventually joined those first two. The oldest are all in college, studying and leading productive lives. They are good people who I admire and enjoy spending time with. They are celebrating Thanksgiving today with my parents and siblings in another part of the country. The two children who still live at home are healthy, largely obedient, and delightful. They show great promise of eventually maturing into functional human beings as well.
I finally made it through school and earned three degrees. I am blessed to be able to make a living directing plays and teaching music. I have also been able to write books, which fulfills a childhood dream.
We live in a modest, but very comfortable home. We don't have everything, but we have everything we really need, and then some. I peeled potatoes today while watching some of my beloved old movies. I have a job I love very much. I work long hours, and feel incredibly blessed to be able to do so. Next to my own children, my students are the light of my life. I have been receiving emails today from students and dear former students with whom I have kept in touch They are kind enough to express their love, and of course, the feeling is mutual.
My wife who heroically stuck with me, is my rock. That terrible experience pulled us closer. Today, we are able to enjoy each other, and she is able to volunteer in many different places, sharing her remarkable light and goodness and love with everyone she meets. I think those very taxing early years did something to her. I worried they would break her, but actually, they burnished more brightly her ability to see other people's difficulties and struggles, and her determination to do what she can to help people. Almost twenty-five years together have brought a comfort, warmth, and stability to our lives. However, all that time has not changed the fact that the sparkle in her eyes still makes my heart skip a few beats.
Today, I am deeply thankful for all these things, thankful at a visceral, elemental level. But besides being thankful, I am hopeful. I suppose that is why I am writing this, really. Perhaps someone out there is struggling, full of despair and uncertainty. Or, even worse, full of certainty that things will only get worse. That was certainly what my life looked like at times in the past.
I can't read the future, but I can learn from the past. And everything in the past has taught me is to hope, to look forward with optimism. So, if you are happy today, I rejoice with you. And if you're not, I am sending my best wishes. God isn't dead. Miracles happen. Beauty can come out of ashes. Life can be beautiful. Things can change.
It occurs to me that perhaps having hope is the future tense of being grateful. Rooted in gratitude for the good we enjoy, we look forward more easily with hope.
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