There was a time when I was honored to be a member of a very private world. I call this “The Sick World”. This is a place that is filled with people who are living their lives day to day, doctor appointment to doctor appointment, and grappling with all that it means to be alive. When you live in The Sick World, there is a certain understanding among its residents. This same understanding is difficult to find when you are out in “The Well World”. There is a depth to this community, a vibrating knowledge of the fragility and value of life. I am proud to say that I once lived in The Sick World.
When I lived in The Sick World, I was no longer interested in what I once was. It was as if I had moved to another planet. I didn’t care about who was playing in the Superbowl or which celebrity was dating another celebrity. I didn’t even care much about the state of the country, as it rarely had an impact on my little universe. People would tell me their problems and I could see with an indescribable understanding just how and why they were standing in their own way to reaching greatness. It was as if I had been given a map to living; it all seemed so obvious. The only problem was that I didn’t have the physical ability to engage in it very much myself.
The level of insight could be satisfying and my level of non-attachment to the dramas of this life were freeing. However, it was also stressful for me when visitors from The Well World approached me with the expectation to care about all the things they cared about and to the same degree. So few people spoke, or even understood, my language; the language spoken in The Sick World. I have created two lists to help illustrate how different the focus is in each world. I will start with The Well World.
The Top 10 Things that People in the Well –World Occupy Their Thoughts With:
2. Marriage (getting it, keeping it, dissolving it)
4. Physical Appearance
6. Body (exercise, diet)
7. Friends, socializing
8. Entertainment: where should we go tonight?
9. State of the world, politics
Here is my Top 10 List of things I thought about when I lived in the Sick World:
The top 4 are the same, but with a slight twist.
- Family/Friends and how will they cope with my death
- Marriage-surviving w/less conflict, feeling trapped
- Body: worry, constant inventory, acute awareness
- My physical appearance, embarrassed to be carrying my oxygen tank and tubes
I stopped thinking about socializing, where I would go that night, the state of the world and my hobbies. Replacing those were:
5. Stairs: Things like stairs and inclines began to become a part of how I planned my day. If I knew there were stairs where I was going I had to give myself plenty of extra time to get up them, or find an alternate route. Sometimes, I still see a flight of stairs and fill with dread…I have to remind myself that they are no longer an obstacle for me!!
6. Appointments, the landmarks of my life!
7. Getting to another room, getting food
8. A conversation
10. My feelings
When I look at those lists now, I can feel sad for myself that I lived in The Sick World. It seems so small from this vantage point. There is a certain depth and truth to The Sick World but I don’t suggest that people living in The Sick World have chosen that address, nor would they consider themselves happy to be a permanent resident. Those that live in The Sick World usually strive to return to The Well World. I envied those that occupied time contemplating buying a new house or where they would go on the next vacation. There were times that I resented the simplicity of my life and yearned for the complexity of The Well World.
Despite its hardships, there is something to be said for a world where That Which Is Important remains clear and is always at the surface. It is my challenge now to somehow hold on to some of the clarity of the Sick World while enjoying the physical freedom of The Well World. This is a challenge of which I have mostly failed. There is beauty and heartache in both worlds. The trick is learning from each other and valuing what we have right now.
To all of those living in the private, misunderstood Sick World, may your whispers be heard so that others can learn about That Which is Important. To all of those living in the dominant and often oblivious Well World, may you open your eyes to the lessons of the Sick World and slow down, calm down and appreciate the deep breaths you are able to take.