I’m having difficulty staying asleep. It’s half past midnight, and the convent feels disturbingly quiet. I have a heavy head and my body is shaking like a leaf from chills and aches. My heart is pounding right through me; I dream about my chest expanding to the point of deflation. Bowing to my present lack of ability to care for myself, I’m overwhelmed by a sense of aloneness. I decide to visit the infirmary just down the hall.
The last thing I wanted was to get sick. We have a very rigid and busy schedule here, so to miss even a day or two will make ne feel like I’ve been gone for ages. Besides, I wouldn’t want to fade the daily rhythm I worked so hard to get into! And I’m not in the mood to play catch-up these days.
I popped a pill and the fever symptoms started to cool out. I could go to sleep, but upon waking up, they were still there. As I lay in my bed, trying to muster up the courage and energy needed to face the day, one of the head sisters unexpectedly knocked on my door. To my surprise, she walked in and made herself comfortable on my chair as she invited me to take a seat on my bed. I didn’t mind this at all, it’s just that I didn’t realize until this moment how fixated I had been on the notion of our bedrooms being sacrosanct. The sister coordinating the Companions program joined us soon after. Having them there to see how I was doing was comforting, even with the embarrassing teenage-looking mess of my bedroom. I ended up staying in the infirmary for about three nights.
Despite adjusting to the change of scenery, an emergency trip to the doctor’s office, and annoying physical weakness, my experience in the infirmary was a restful and encouraging one. I watched a wonderful documentary on Netflix about last year’s Chinese-themed Met Gala, basked in the luxury of having a personal bathroom, and just lounged around in bed, softly hoping for a well-defined encounter with God. And I did encounter Him. I saw Him in the faces of the nurses who monitored my blood pressure and temperature regularly, in the support and concern of my family members, and especially in the two sisters who had been heedful of my needs while frequently visiting me. Hospitality is truly a saintly trait.
Now, I’m one of those rare birds who gets upset when positive things happen to me. Like I don’t deserve them or something. Or probably because somewhere along the way I’ve learned to believe that good happenings are fleeting forerunners of bad happenings. I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure out how to tastefully receive love and grace from the world. Not that I’m saying being sick was a good thing, but the help and attention I received because of being sick, was good.
I mentioned to one of the sisters before about how I tend to feel guilty when people do nice things for me. In response, she asked me, “Do you know what the opposite of feeling guilty is?” My mind drew a blank and I said, “No.” She continued to say, “It’s gratitude”. I then smiled because I had achieved some enlightenment after hearing that. This truth had been at the back of my mind for a while but no one ever put it into context for me until now. Feeling guilty is ineffective and wasteful. I reminded myself of this conversation during my stay in the infirmary. I forget to say, “Thank you”, and simply accept blessings!
Let me tell you, a thanksgiving meditation is not only a form of prayer, but also a real-world safeguard against shamefaced anxiety.
A. Samuel, SSJD Companion