Lindsey Weishar: Tending to mind, heart, and body: The Divine Physician’s touch
My Vocation is Love l Lindsey Weishar
Having recently been sick and realizing recovery times as an adult seem much longer than when I was a child, a line from Flannery O’Connor has been coming to mind: “I have never been anywhere but sick.”
Diagnosed with lupus at 27 years old, O’Connor was forced to move back in with her mother for the last 12 years of her life. So when she says she hasn’t been anywhere, she is likely in-part speaking literally.
In today’s society, one touched in recent memory by a pandemic, sickness becomes perhaps a broader and more frightening reality. It also reminds me that sickness lives not only in the body. I imagine there are a number of us who may be physically healthy, but resonate with “I have never been anywhere but sick,” because we suffer with anxiety, depression, or other mental health struggles. Likewise, some of us may be a caregiver for someone with a long illness and live with a daily knowledge of sickness and suffering. Some of us may deeply know the scourge of loneliness and the toll it takes on the spirit.
WHAT CAN SICKNESS TEACH US?
Though I remembered this O’Connor line, which can be found in “The Habit of Being,” a collection of her letters, I had not remembered the line that follows: “I have never been anywhere but sick. In a sense sickness is a place, more instructive than a long trip to Europe, and it’s always a place where there’s no company, where nobody can follow.”
When we are sick, are we able to let others see us vulnerable? Do we allow them to serve us?
One lingering answer lies in the Gospels — in the marvelous healing of the woman with hemorrhages, Jairus’s daughter, the man possessed by demons, the 10 lepers whose disease had separated them from their community. We hear in Mark 3:10 that the sick were “pressing upon him to touch him.” Sickness becomes an impetus for seeking healing, for noticing the frailty of mind and body, a starting point for faith in the Divine Physician whose touch, whose very word, heals.
It is a condition of our humanity that our bodies experience the vulnerability of sickness. That vulnerability can open us up to many things — to greater surrender, but also, I’ve found, to the temptation to hopelessness. At a time in which our nation and world struggle under the burden of despair, our faith offers us the healing antidote to hopelessness — the reality of Christ’s dominion over sickness, over death, over all endings.
LOURDES FEAST, WORLD DAY OF THE SICK
In this compact, and sometimes rather dreary month, I’d like to remind us of our Blessed Mother under the title of Our Lady of Lourdes. The Church celebrates this memorial on Feb. 11, and in 1992 Pope John Paul II also named this day “World Day of the Sick.” In his World Day of the Sick message for Feb. 11, 2023, Pope Francis says, “I invite all of us to reflect on the fact that it is especially through the experience of vulnerability and illness that we can learn to walk together according to the style of God, which is closeness, compassion, and tenderness.” He recalls the parable of the Good Samaritan and Jesus’ call to “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37) when it comes to tending to those around us, especially the sick.
One of my favorite parts of this address is the dignity Pope Francis gives the sick when he says: “Sick people, in fact, are at the center of God’s people, and the Church advances together with them as a sign of a humanity in which everyone is precious and no one should be discarded or left behind.” This is a much-needed message for societies like ours where one’s productivity is often privileged over their humanity. The way we take care of the sick among us tells us about the health and well-being of our society.
And important, too, is our own posture in sickness. Are we able to let others see us vulnerable? Do we allow them to serve us? Maybe we feel that we haven’t been anywhere but sick; maybe we can’t remember what good health feels like. May we bring all our maladies to the feet of Our Lady of Lourdes, the Mother who holds a special place for our weaknesses and infirmities.
Though we may experience our illness or the illnesses of others alone (in that others cannot experience it the exact way we are experiencing it), we can be accompanied by the love and care of others, and by Christ, who loves us just as much in sickness as in health, and is with us in our vulnerability, giving us what we need at this moment in our journey.
LINDSEY WEISHAR is a poet, freelance writer, and native of Champaign who has a master of fine arts in creative writing from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She is executive assistant to the president at Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.