It has been a particularly brutal flu season this year, which has made all of us a little more guarded in public places. We suspiciously eye folks who cough or sneeze in the grocery store, and bathe in hand sanitizer as a precaution. Everybody’s immune system is challenged at such times, the fear of “catching it” very real.
We ask “Did you get your flu shot?” which has become as common a greeting as “How are you?”
And that got me thinking about how immunizations work. When I was a young child, polio was the big threat to the general population. My mom, ever so cautious, would watch me as I played in the front yard, on high alert to the dangers of the disease lingering in ditches and puddles. I wanted nothing more than to jump in those wet patches, particularly after a rain, but her words of warning lingered in my mind until I, too, fearfully avoided anything that looked like germs might have taken up residence there.
Fortunately, Jonas Salk discovered the breakthrough prevention for polio, a simple dropper full of vaccine on a sugar cube. Yes, it did seem a bit like Mary Poppins was in charge as we lined with up our tongues out to receive the bit of sugar that made the medicine go down, but it worked. And subsequent generations have no idea of the infirmity that the life-threatening illness brought with it.
All of us will, at some point in our lives confront difficulty or challenge. It is impossible to live without the occasional heart break because, if we are anxious to experience unbridled joy, we must also know that the opposite can happen, too, an unrelenting sadness that accompanies the pendulum swing. It is the yes and no of the universe, the push and pull. Few of us are exempt from its sting. And although we know this to be true, we are seldom prepared when trials arrive at our doorsteps, demanding entrance.
We then scramble, trying to identify the implications. I have always been intrigued by the power of words to move us, to evoke a feeling simply by hearing them uttered out loud. And so it is when we shed tears, crying out in despair that we understand the depths of the pain that accompanies sorrow. We walk the tightrope of life, never considering that if we fall, if we reach the pit of hopelessness, we will be confronted with a choice about what to do next. And that is, for each of us, a pivotal moment.
But such forks in the road, times of trouble and grief will also demonstrate something, too. Much like those immunizations, hard times teach us how to be resilient. When we are inoculated, we are infusing a small dose of the disease, forcing our bodies to produce immunities and subsequent protection. And when we survive trials, we come to recognize our strength, and that reinforces our understanding of who we are. Persistence shows us that the next time we must face adversity, we will not only overcome it, but we will learn something new about who we are. And the ultimate gift is that we are no longer afraid.
I am trying to remember this in light of my illness. It is important to accept what I have been given, to be spiritually renewed even though my body is in crisis. There is an uncertainty, of course, but all of us must live with not knowing what tomorrow will bring, whether we are aware of it or not. The difference is that I have a diagnosis on a lab report that makes me wait and wonder as I tentatively step into each new day. I know that I am being rearranged in some way, that while I am physically challenged, I am most certainly living in a sacred place, experiencing the immunization of my heart and soul.