On May 12, I contracted Chikungunya Fever, a mosquito-born virus that has recently been declared an epidemic in the Caribbean. Symptoms included fever, rash, intense itching, cold sweats, headache, nausea, insomnia, injected sclera, and, worst of all, a level of whole-body joint paint that I never knew existed. Every joint felt like it was sprained. In the future, when people ask me to rate my pain “on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most pain I’ve ever felt”, I now have my 10. Fist pump. Ouch.
Once “The Chik” sets in, you’re basically bed-ridden for at least 7 days. Hilariously, my wife got it, too. On the same day. Probably bit by the same stupid mosquito. At one point, we were both immobilized in bed and Jacelyn turned to me and said, “It feels like I’m dying.” It truly is a remarkable experience to feel like your body is betraying you. For all you adventurers out there, contracting Chik-V should be on your bucket list. You can read the complete synopsis of our plague on our blog, NicandJacelyn, but in the mean time, HERE’S a pic of how we spend three of those excruciating days.
That was one month ago, and most of the symptoms had faded by the end of 7 days. However, one interesting aspect of Chikungunya is that the joint pain lingers as arthritis for a long time, sometimes up to a year. So, though you’re no longer scratching your rash or sitting awake miserably through the night with blood-soaked eyes, you are unable to walk upright in any manner similar to the “old you”. Or, rather, maybe now you ARE walking like the old you, 78 years down the road.
In fact, the word “chikungunya” has it’s origins “from the Makonde word meaning ‘that which bends up’ in reference to the stooped posture developed as a result of the arthritic symptoms of the disease. In Swahili this means ‘the illness of the bended walker’.” (ChikungunyaVirusNet.com)
However, the most impacting Chik Tidbit is that it locates, takes up residence in, and inflames any old injuries you may have had in the past. All symptoms of The Chik may have faded away and life might go on as normal, but suddenly, out of nowhere, a pain you haven’t had in decades is laying you low. In a certain sense, all of your old weak points become the virus’ new home. When I was a competing gymnast in the early 90’s, I severely injured my right foot. I was on crutches for weeks, but the pain eventually faded and I went on with my life, forgetting about the injury completely.
Until last week.
Here on the island, on any given day, I walk about 3 miles up and down steep hills in the 95-degree weather. On a good day, I arrive at my destination drenched in sweat and sore. Now that Chikungunya has discovered my sordid past in the world of tumbling, it has settled into my old, injured right foot. Currently, when I go somewhere, I still arrive sweaty, but now I hobble up with a glazed grimace, wishing I could just chill out in my wheelchair with my knitting and my blended food and lament the ills of that danged rap music.
As I was gimping my way down a steep trail last week, I was struck by the similarity and familiarity between this invasive virus and all of the worst moments of my spiritual and emotional life. I am a messy combination of an insanely powerful ego, convinced of his own supremacy, and a crumbly, frightened 9-year-old with terrifying abandonment issues. I know I’m always right, but I combine that surety with fuzzy memories of an abusive biological dad who deserted me and an adopted dad who rarely spoke to me. As a result, I’m basically scared to death that the whole world is going to up and leave me tomorrow, in spite of how staggeringly amazing I am.
Most often, like most of us, I do just fine. I slalom through the days, for all intents and purposes, living in the now. I don’t normally spend my waking moments plagued by fear of rejection or trampling the needs of those around me due to my royalty and their peasantry. Once in a while, though, seemingly out of nowhere, I wake up petrified of rejection or go to bed miffed how much more stupider the world is than I is. Occasionally, I take, rip, and grasp at the very moment when I should be giving, healing, and releasing.
Christian thought teaches us that these moments, these discrepancies “between who you are and who you could be, between how it is and how it should be” (Switchfoot) are a result of distance–and all out separation–from God, moments when we say yes to lacking goodness and no to His love, which is the lifeblood of existence and fulfillment. These are the dark moments, when our old weakness is seized upon by one of our oldest enemies–our splintered, divergent selves.
And it’s not even that we’re wretched to the core, or piles of dung covered by white snow, as Martin Luther put it. No, by virtue of being breathed into existence, we always retain our inherent dignity and goodness. We are always made in His image and likeness. “We’re not broken, just bent.” (I firmly resolve, with the help of God’s grace, never to quote Pink again.)
Maybe JPII said it better: “one should therefore speak rather of a darkening of the intellect and of a weakening of the will, of ‘wounds’ of the spiritual and sensitive faculties, and not of a loss of their essential capacities even in relation to the knowledge and love of God.” (General Audience, Oct 8, 1986)
We’re dimwitted and wimpy. We don’t see clearly and our determination is fractured.
In the first novel of his space trilogy, C.S. Lewis’ protagonist, Ransom, visits Malacandra (Mars), and encounters beings who exist on a drastically different level than earthlings. Humans are described as being “bent”. They retain the image of their heritage and purpose, but are at angles, at odds with them. They walk slanted, off-point.
That is us.
Yes, we are wonderfully complex. Yes, inherently good. Yes, worth dying for. But we are also dreadfully darkened, woefully weakened, and the cause of much death. Most days, we can convince ourselves that we walk upright, and of our own doing at that. But inevitably, the Chikungunya Soup of the Soul exposes the weak points, the old fractures, and we’re once again forced to confront and deal with the reality of our imbalances.
Two things can help, at that point.
First, when someone else’s ills, pitfalls, and old injuries are brought to light, when you see them limping along, and you are tempted to think them dimwitted, remember how weak your will to do good is. When you witness a moral failure in someone, remember how daft you can be. Remember that you’re viewing every scenario and situation through a glass dimly, with faded eyesight and cracked resolve. Love the idiots. Scoop up the dunces.
Different guy, same mind
Second, the fact is that the wobbles of ourselves and those around us should never be cause for lament and tirades. If anything, we should be bolstered by the fact that the endless, unstoppable, driving force of God’s love is never hindered by meager stupidity. As ineptly and horribly as I may convey and portray Christ’s love for you and the whole world, yet still He loves. When Facebook, blogging, and all trending forms of social media fall short of adequately showing unconditional love, remember that human interaction has been failing at the same thing since the beginning, yet still He loves. None of our stumbles and hobbles in the dark will change that. Remember that “we are Easter people, and alleluia is our song”, even if our piano is out of tune, the choir is tone deaf, and the drummer can’t kick the bass because his foot hurts so bad.