We are told heartbreaking stories about animals who spend years in captivity, held in tiny cages or pens, often under the most brutal of conditions. And we wonder about the cruel nature of man that allows him to treat another living creature with such disregard. But just as the world is ordered into opposites, so is the very essence of human beings, and fortunately, there are kindly, altruistic folks, who step in to rescue and liberate the unfortunate. These are the heroes.
This should be the happy ending, but it isn’t always. Sometimes, when the door is swung wide, offering an invitation to freedom, the animal will hesitate as though fearful to take that first tentative step. Although it defies all logic, the prison has become comfortable, the walls providing protection from the outside. And the poor creature is lost in a big world to which it is no longer adapted.
As crazy as it might sound, I understand how that feels. A year ago, I was given a label to attach to the physical symptoms that had kept me close to home for much of the preceding eight months. I didn’t feel well enough to do much even prior to treatment, and afterwards, chemo restricted me. I dared not make plans or have dreams because the possibility of disappointment was ever-present as uncertainty surrounded my day-to-day existence. My sick bed confined me, limited my life, but it was also where I felt the most secure with permission to temporarily hide away.
You know, eventually, the animal released from a painful trap will scamper away, never giving a second thought to all that it has endured. People are not that smart. We analyze and overthink. We hold tightly to the pain, as though it will hurt worse if we let it go. Dragging the bag of experience, along with us, we wonder why we feel burdened and tired. It is all so foolish. And exhausting.
I have come to appreciate that healing takes time. And the process is not limited to the physical toll exacted by being sick. For all practical purposes, I have been liberated, pronounced fit to rejoin the living by the medical community. But truth be told, I am having a problem adjusting, to fall back in step with the rhythm of life. So much of what I had when I entered this constrained place of illness is gone. My energy is diminished. My thinking is compromised. I have lost muscle strength and my ability to squeeze into a cute pair of jeans. But I have also lost people. Friends and family, whose loyalty and love I never questioned, vanished into thin air like ghosts. Others, who rallied around at the beginning, grew tired of my ongoing need and simply stopped calling, leaving me to wonder what foolish thing I might have said or done when I was too sick to have my wits about me. I suppose that the possibility of my dying was scary for them. It certainly was for me, too, but in choosing to walk away, they made me feel that it didn’t matter if I lived either. And that broke my heart. I don’t think my situation is unique. It happens more than most of us might imagine. So I need to grieve a little, mourn what used to be, but is no more, while I rejoice in what remains. Just as during the crisis of illness I understood the depth of my dependency, after the crisis, I have discovered a little more about who I am. Experience is always a great teacher.
And so, I am learning to redefine what life means now since everything is a little different. Each morning, I get to determine what is important to me. And for the first time in over a year, I am thinking about the future and what brings me joy. Sometimes, it is simple moments that I used to take for granted, but sometimes, I hope for big adventures that are yet to be experienced, and new people who will enter my life. I wish that I could tell you that I am strong and brave. Some days, I think I am ready to take on the world. Other times, not so much. But then, I am reminded of the eagle, who learns how to fly because it is pushed from the nest. I often wonder why the thrill of soaring has to begin with the fear of falling. But now I understand. Sometimes, we have to force ourselves to step out in faith to fulfill whatever destiny awaits us, even if all that lies below is uncertainty. And that makes the push the greatest gift of all.