Friday, October 14, 2016

It's been five years and I still need such grace

Five years ago, now. I can hardly believe it.

Five years ago, this month, my parents drove me to Connecticut so I could check myself into the acute ward at Silver Hill Hospital. It was a gamble -- there wasn't a guarantee that there would be a bed free. But I couldn't wait for there to be an opening in the longer-term care house. I didn't think I would make it.

And so I watched the leaves turn in a wire cage, open to the sky, smelling of quiet decay and cigarette smoke, before I finally managed to talk my way out of the cage and across the street into the big white house.

Two weekends ago, I was thinking about that house.

I was sitting in a room on the second floor of the farmhouse at Georgetown University's beautiful retreat center in the Shenandoah. The grounds were thick with fog -- of course, when you're in the mountains, it's not really fog, it's just being in a cloud. A cloud, on a mountain, and a quiet sort of transfiguration.

And I looked out on the grounds, beautifully obscured, all edges softened, and remembered my last day at Silver Hill. How I walked around the house -- the house where I'd learned about radical acceptance, and mindfulness, and interrupting the chain, and riding the wave -- walked around the house in the snow and the fog. Stared at the stream and the pond where I'd watched leaves flow by, disappearing over the small waterfall, imagining them as my thoughts, free to drift away. Peered through the trees, now silently skeletal with winter, to the buildings where I'd learned from newly sober drunks and meth heads and nervous teenagers with body dysmorphia and addictions to painkillers and middle aged women with eating disorders, so many people old before their time or worn ragged by time, honest in their presence and their speech.

If we were a body, we were barely held together by the sinew of desperation, after the collapse of the exoskeletons we'd grown in a world for which we were, somehow, made too fragile.

That was five years ago. I still need such grace.

I am not fixed. Not cured. The sickness that was in my bones, my fragile skeleton that I held so carefully as I walked in the fog on that last day five years ago now, is with me still. I see it out of the corner of my eyes, even on the good days. I hear it in my voice when I tell people how good my life is.

I am not lying to them. My life is good. It is very, very good. I am so grateful for it.

But my skeleton, if stronger now, is still made of the same bones.

Photo by Father Greg Schenden, SJ
And so I sat in the farmhouse in the Shenandoah, and in between beautiful conversations with students I looked out into the fog. Into the cloud. And thought about Silver Hill.

And thought about transfiguration.

And thought about a voice saying, "This is my Beloved Child."

I felt a deep peace, there on the mountain. I'll tell you about what I heard, or didn't hear, in that stillness and silence. Some other day. Some other time.

But today, I will tell you:

It has been five years, now. And I still need such grace.

1 comment:

  1. Really beautiful. I lived for 10 years with chronic illness, insomnia, panic, anxiety, and experienced lows and highs. I can very much relate to this. My favorite part is, "If we were a body, we were barely held together by the sinew of desperation, after the collapse of the exoskeletons we'd grown in a world for which we were, somehow, made too fragile." It is always a privilege to be in worship on a psych ward. It is the most authentic and honest worship I've experienced.... "True worshippers worship in spirit and in truth."