“…Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part…”
-7th UU Principle
It’s been a challenging summer health-wise, and NOT exactly the relaxing summer that I had planned. I have recently become even more cognizant of the fact that I am not as young as I’ve always felt: I am aging, for better and for worse. While I think I’ve been blessed with pretty good genes, this summer’s steady flow, in and out of doctors’ offices, specialist’s appointments and related diagnostic tests has been humbling to say the least. I thought my expensive dental appliance had taken care of my moderate sleep apnea, but I was wrong – and I’ve needed to upgrade to that sexiest of all devices, the CPAP. And, I’ve had to see 2 opthamalogists and a retina specialist for some myopia-related conditions, which were totally unexpected. On top of that, the right foot that I use most often on the piano pedal has been bothering me for the last few months, sometimes making walking painful. Turns out, I have arthritis in the toe joint, and will most likely need some kind of surgery down the road to deal with that. It’s hard to imagine the sheer number of foot and toe flexes I’ve done in the last 45 years while playing the piano, not to mention the constant wear and tear on my hands, fingers and arms while I’m attempting to create beauty at the instrument.
Don’t get me wrong; I ain’t inviting anyone to a pity party. I am certainly aware that my various maladies, while annoyingly inconvenient, are not life-threatening – and that many of you are dealing with much more serious and challenging health conditions – some of which have been written about in this Between Sundays column. However, my own struggles HAVE given me pause to ponder more than a few things. While the majority of the physicians, specialists and office admin folks that I’ve encountered this summer have been supportive and kind, I have at times, been a touch grouchy…..all too aware that I am no spring chicken. I think that dealing with these kinds of health issues in the future will be all the more frustrating if I cannot reframe how I see myself as clearly as I see those around me. In thinking, I am reminded of the 7th UU Principle, and the respect for the interdependent web of existence, of which we are all a part. While for many, this Principle has primarily environmental associations, for me – it is a beacon and a warning to embrace the totality of everything outside of ourselves – away from individual self-focus and preoccupation, toward the power of community and the mutual processes of life that we all go through. Instead of silently, grouchily suffering, I have hesitatingly turned to my family and friends for support, and for the daily updates and complaints about this and that malady that has to be overcome.
I have often wondered why it seems easy for some folks to come up to the table of stones each Sunday morning in our sanctuary to share their most personal stories and life challenges, while other prefer to keep their own sufferings to themselves, or among a very small group of friends/close confidants. There is, of course, no right or wrong here – but it is indeed a blessing that community exists to hold and support this web of existence of which we are all a part. In her recent Sunday morning homily, Jen Raffensperger discussed the metaphor of just this kind of web as a net – a symbol of the strength of community within our congregation…such that if one part of the net might be momentarily weak, another part will support. This is exactly how my Opthamologist describes the current condition in my retina. Due to my extreme nearsightedness, it is as though a piece of fabric is stretched a bit too tight around a football – there are small cracks, or places where the pigment is lighter in color. The most likely scenario is that these macular cracks won’t change much over time, thankfully – but it will be something I will have to always monitor.
It may come as no surprise to most of you that I am a somewhat intentionally private person, more inclined to either suck up my struggles internally (for complex reasons that I won’t go into here), and/or turn to just a few friends for encouragement. Both my southern roots and family traditions encourage keeping challenges close to the vest, and out of the public eye – but I have always wondered if that is not really the most healthy way to journey through life. This summer in particular, the 7th Principle is a reminder to me to look beyond myself for both support and the realization that it is virtually impossible for me to handle everything on my own. For those of you who are in my small circle of foundation (or safety web/net) that help to buttress my spirit, my hope, my resolve, and especially resist any tendency to withdraw or settle into a gloomy self-pity, I am grateful, and hope that I can offer the same kind of healthy commiseration.