I got sick as I was leading my retreat in Italy a couple years ago. Really sick.
Sick like you get once every ten years sick, sick like you forget what that kind of sick feels like until you actually are that sick kind of sick.
I lost my voice and the left side of my face swelled up. I couldn’t inhale without coughing out green mucus and I wanted to vomit every twenty minutes. I couldn’t breathe through my nose and my throat was so sore it felt like I was swallowing sand every time I so much as opened my mouth.
So here I am in Italy, leading a retreat with twenty-five people and sick like Hell has frozen over.
So what do I do?
I bargain with God.
Please God. Please if you help me get through teaching this ninety minute class without dying or passing out I will never again ______ or I promise I will ________.
I am not religious at all but I realize when I get that desperate, when I feel as if my life is truly on the line in some way, I realize, in hindsight, that I think if I promise to be “good” for the rest of my life then nothing bad like this will happen to me again.
I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish he didn’t trust me so much. – Mother Teresa
I call it the Bullshit Bargain. It’s like I am down in the Bullshit Bargain Basement.
I wasn’t being “punished.”
I also am not bad as promising to be good from now on implies.
Yes, I do believe in something greater than myself, but no, I do not believe that said power is only present to help me when things have gone really south and I need a bail-out or I am fisting the sky and asking things like: Why God? Why must my friend’s baby die or why did you take my dad away?
Excuse my language but: Bullshit.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that there are no terms. There is no contract that I have ever signed which says if I behave then my life will be graced and I will never get sick, things will never go wrong and people will never die.
What I mean is: I am not being punished when I get sick, my friend Emily was not being punished by having her son pass away from Tay Sachs Disease, and my dad dying was a result of many many things which I will not go into here but which involved drugs and a certain self-loathing at the core.
I started thinking about this idea of bargaining a lot. So I dug deeper and remembered the last year I lived in NYC when I was a student at NYU. I was severely anorexic, starving myself and taking so many laxatives and laxative teas a day that every single night I would cry and beg God, forget bargaining, I would downright beg there on the cold bathroom floor: if I don’t die tonight I will never ever do this again. I promise!
And you know what? Can you guess?
I did it the next night.
And the next.
And the next.
And I don’t remember much of that time because I was a sleepless freezing zombie because I had no fat on my bones and I had purple fingernails and diet pills running through my system instead of food. I lived on sea-weed and I tried to focus on things like literature and art history but all that dangled before my eyes were plates of pasta and cheeseburgers and anything else that I would never let pass my lips.
I don’t remember much except when I close my eyes and focus and even then, I don’t really want to remember because why would I?
Back to Italy.
I made it through teaching those classes. I have no idea how. Maybe my dad, with his wicked sense of humor and packs of cigarettes, was really looking down on me and finally had to step in; I can’t let my kid suffer like this. Come on, Someone? Do something?
I made it through those classes and whatever bargain I made with God has slipped my mind.
Isn’t that just so typical of us humans?
I do believe in: A Something.
A something beyond me.
But not in a punishing way.
So I wonder why I make deals? Why I promise to be good as if I will be rewarded? Why my core belief is that in some way I am bad and therefore these types of things happen to me.
I realize I am entering murky water and I will get some hardcore religious folks who might be upset with me.
That’s ok. I am not one of them.
I am the most me I can be and no matter what happens to me I know it is not because I am being “punished” or if I promise to be “good” then things will change. Karma just doesn’t work that fast.
And as for all of you that are Doubting Thomas’ when I use the term “manifest” read this one closely.
I define “manifest” as making shit happen.
We can change our thoughts. This I know. It does take some work but I am willing to put that work in. (Are you?)
I am choosing to believe that I am perfect and whole as I am, without any need for punishments or bargains. (This doesn’t work for me everyday. Choosing this belief. Trust me. But I am doing my best over here. Sometimes I think I am broken as hell, but hey, I am doing my best.)
Are you willing to choose that too? The belief that you are whole and undamaged and exactly where you need to be? As often as you can? Say, right now?
I will leave you with this poem, Wild Geese, one of my favorites by Mary Oliver.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.