I promise you’ll understand the link between the title and the picture soon. I promise.
1 Peter 1:24-25a
“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord endures forever.”
I had the flu last week. Actually, I had flu minus, because I got my flu shot in August. I am certain that last week would have been a giant disaster had I not gotten that flu shot because I would not want to be sicker than I was last week. Believe me, there is nothing pleasant about a 100.6 degree fever, aches, chills, cough, and the incessant need to sleep.
Actually, I lie. It was glorious!
I don’t slow down often, which is a mother’s euphemism for “I am ridiculously over-busy.” My husband and my kids will tell you that I do way too much work for way too many people for way too little money. I don’t disagree with them, but I’m not going to stop…unless I’m sick.
It used to be that being sick didn’t stop me either. I was younger and stronger then, and the only illness that could keep me at home was the kind that could keep me locked in the bathroom. If you can’t leave the bathroom you can’t really go to work. Anything else: colds, bronchitis, walking pneumonia—it didn’t matter. If I wasn’t contagious, I went to work. In my mind, I could be miserable at home and do nothing or be miserable at work and be productive. At that point in my life I voted for productive.
And then I got older.
As I approached my 50th birthday, I remember deciding that to celebrate my 5th decade of life, I would train for and run a 5K race. 50 years, 5K…they just seemed to go together. I started training for my 5K and things were looking good. After a few weeks of alternating running and walking in shorter spurts, I managed to run my first mile without stopping. I was feeling pretty good about things, so good that I decided that I would be ready to run my first 5K only a few weeks after my 50th birthday, which left me about 16 more weeks to train…and then I discovered something rather upsetting: you cannot run a mile if you cannot breathe. Who knew? Anyway, many doctor visits, two CT scans, one nasal scoping, two breathing tests, and a full set of allergy tests later (oy vey!) I discovered that I have lung issues, rather nasty seasonal allergies, and exercise induced asthma that gets really bad when my allergies are really bad…which is about 9 months out of the year. Leave it to me to decide to start running during two of the only three months during the year when I don’t have bad allergies.
I’m 51 years old now, and I still haven’t run a 5K and I’m guessing that I’m not going to get to run a 5K. I came to peace with that not long after my 50th birthday, but it left me with no interesting way to celebrate my 5th decade of life. I wanted to celebrate my 50th birthday by doing something that would illustrate my vitality, my continuing youth, and my growing strength despite my age. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was heading in the wrong direction, mentally.
After all, when do I get to grow up? Being 50 isn’t a bad thing—I still feel young, I still look young, or at least I still feel like I look young. But when do I start working on the ‘mature woman’ thing? What is that supposed to look like? A few blog posts ago I wrote about the challenges involved with becoming aged and frail enough to require a caregiver (see August 27). There is a long, long road between where I am now as a 51 year old woman and being aged and frail, but it is a road and that implies journey. In other words, I can’t get from where I am now to where I’ll be then without a process.
So how do I prepare myself now to become the aged and frail woman I will be then? For me, that started by admitting that I can’t afford to keep working when I’m sick.
Remember those lung problems I mentioned earlier? They are most obvious to me whenever I get sick, because no matter what I get sick with, it goes to my chest and becomes bronchitis. Colds become bronchitis; flu becomes bronchitis; sinus infections become bronchitis; ingrown toenails become bronchitis. Okay…not really, but it’s almost that bad. Last week I had the flu…this week I have bronchitis. Seriously, I do.
So I decided that to celebrate my 5th decade of life, I would learn to value my own growing frailty, my aging process, and the reality that I am NOT ALL THAT I USED TO BE. To celebrate my 50th birthday I would allow myself to be sick. Doesn’t sound like much of a celebration, does it? But it is…because in order to allow myself to be sick, I have to decide that my need for rest is more important than everyone else’s need for me to be on time, where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to do. In other words, I have decided that I am important enough to inconvenience others in order to take care of myself! Maybe I should just say that I am important enough to inconvenience others. It has been a lot of years since I last allowed myself to inconvenience anyone for any reason without feeling guilty. I was sick with the flu last week, and I didn’t feel guilty at all. How’s that for maturity?!
Like I said, it was glorious. I haven’t had five days of rest and relaxation (without leaving the country on vacation) in years and years. I sat in my recliner in front of the TV and slept through episode after episode of Law & Order. I would run an errand and then come home and take a nap that took at least an hour longer than it took to run my errand. I ate tomato soup and cheese toast and slept late in the mornings. I didn’t get much of anything done and the world did not end.
It is a long road between where I am now and becoming a frail, old woman who needs a caretaker. Somewhere along that journey I need to learn to accept my limitations with grace, instead of throwing a tantrum like some toddler who doesn’t want to be told ‘no.’ And so this year I choose to allow myself to be sick and I choose to call that my personal celebration of turning 50. I have lived 5 decades and I have finally gained enough wisdom to know that I am worth being inconvenient.