What do you do when your life is on an even keel – very even? So even that every day is the same, not a bad same, but unchanging? That's what it is like living with a crock back – and what it is like for many silent sufferers – a friend who is widowed and so arthritic she can barely leave the house, another with chronic fatigue who counts himself lucky to be able to get out of bed.
Pity party? No way! (Which comes from determination rather than belief). Because I can't, I won't live wistfully, as I watch my friends run past to the gym or show holiday snaps. Nor dolefully in a grey mist of loss.
But how? What do I do with my living Groundhog Day? I realize how grateful I am to be able to do the ironing – way ahead of three years ago when I could barely brush my teeth. Luxury is barefoot in the kitchen, making soup and listening to public radio. A break is lying on a hot pad, playing Sudoku.
First, the question: what makes a day, or life, worth living? It's not what you do, skiing, dinner out, shopping with friends. It's how you feel. You do activities because you want to feel good. Dinner out – a change from routne and you feel spoiled and special. Theatre – and you feel amused, alive and part of an energy. Sit by a lake or on a mountain top – serenity and peace.
So what I have to do is create interludes in my humdrum life that allow me to stop and smell the roses – even if it is cabbage cooking,
One great advantage of living with pain is it makes you live in the present. That's all you've got and it hurts. But if you stop and feel – at this actual moment, you aren't actually unhappy. If you are here and now, you aren't thinking, “this is the rest of my life. I felt this yesterday and may be worse tomorrow.” This moment is like a dewdrop, clear and clean – and not unhappy.
I learned this the hard way. We had flown in to San Fransisco, my favourite city. We had saved and waited for this trip. Tonight we would sit on the hill above the Golden Gate Bridge, drinking wine and watching the sun set over the city. Tomorrow, we would walk in the Muir Woods. Pure distilled joy. One of those days when you pinch yourself and say, “It's today, not any other day. It's here and now?” Distilled magic.
The plane was delayed and I lay on the airport floor because I couldn't sit for long. My wheelchair wasn't there, and I had to trek to find it. So I arrived, my back in rags and lay on the motel bed, with throbbing waves of pain – and a sunlit city outside.
“You go off and draw,” I told Bill, because a side issue of pain is my distress at dragging on him. “Bring me a picture.”
And I lay, trying not to cry, the holiday in ribbons. “God, help me.” And in my head a voice said, “Look for the beauty.” Where? A Comfort Inn with beige walls and a dirty carpet, dimmed light because of the walkway outside and grey sheer drapes.
Yet on that dusty balcony was a flower basket. In that basket, a geranium shone, the sun falling on triumphant leaves. So I lay that afternoon and watched the sun play on its petals. And found peace.
These pearl drop moments are hidden in my day, easily brushed aside by routine, but they are there – if I look. If I stop and still my heart, buried in the humdrum are hushed moments when encapsulated in a shaft of sunlight I see God.