By Christine O'Brien
I found out I had Lupus when I was twenty-five. I had already been sick for some time and had become disabled by the various illnesses that have come and gone since then. On the way home from the doctor's office the day he told me I had Lupus, Mama said that I must find what I most wanted to do with my life and no matter what anyone else said, do it. I fooled that doctor and lived on well past the year of life he predicted I might hope to live. Having death always sitting on my left shoulder has often kept me true to my path by helping me to think anew as my abilities and energies ebb and flow. It is a bit like Truth being continuously revealed in my body. I sometimes think of it as surfing. I am standing tall on my imaginary surfboard, the blue sky above, the wind in my hair, taking the waves as they come.
Like as the night follows the day
So misfortune is the shadow of joy
Karma bestowing her lots
With both hands
I found this piece of wisdom somewhere years ago and it has helped me in my journey. I have been thinking about the idea that many things - maybe all things - have within them the opportunity of being both a blessing and a burden.
Because of my disability I am not able to have a regular job. That has given me the time to devote what energies I have to things such as clerking my meeting for twenty-four years, a post I retired from this month. Or working on Circus McGurkis: The People's Fair, which I have been organizing in our community for thirty-one years. I am a recorded minister of our meeting.
Also because of my disability Friends in meeting and other friends raised the money to buy my home for me and have helped to care for me financially and, in recent years, physically. The joy in serving my meeting and having so many to love and to love me has been one of the largest blessings of my life.
Another help is learning and relearning to take off the cloak of ego and put on the cloak of immortality. This is required in clerking so as to become a vessel for Spirit. It helps me find joy in spite of suffering - often joy in what is not me - like clouds or colors - and yet mine because I take such joy in them. It reminds me, it is not all about me.
When I need to, I lie in bed and stare into the trees. The view of the trees from my bed saves me time and time again from destructive thoughts or the urge to get up and do when I need to not do. I often think of the twenty-third Psalm, especially "he makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul." Or Psalm 139:
Whither shall I go from thy Spirit?
Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I take the wings of the morning
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there thy hand shall lead me,
And thy right hand shall hold me.
Our Quaker heritage of holding each other up with a tender hand, love given and received, serenity, joy - without these I would not have lived to experience them now.
Published in What Canst Thou Say? in September 2002