By Larry Feinstein
I just realized what I am doing at this very moment and never wanting to feel matter-of-fact about it. I am actually writing, and if you think that is something I should now take for granted, because I have been at it so long, it would miss the mark by moons. I remember sitting on an airplane a bunch of years ago and typing the start of the first chapter in the memoir for my grandson. The next day, when I started again, I had a feeling I was hooked.
I am only bringing this up now because I was pretty sure I’d reluctantly pass on my extremely neurotic habit of writing a story every weekend. A couple of days ago, my digestive system was kidnapped by the forces of evil. I haven’t been so sick in a long time. I will spare us both a recitation of the gory details.
The choice was simple, skip a week or just become the story. I have been pretty lucky in my life. The closest I have ever gotten to a broken bone was a sprained ankle when I was a kid. A tonsillectomy was the closest I ever got to surgery. It wasn’t until I got to Kaua‘i that I nearly lost my leg to infection, one of the most unbelievable experiences of my life. I was hospitalized for two weeks, had three surgeries, spent a month at home, enduring a level of pain I didn’t think existed and then back to the hospital for a skin graft, followed by more healing and months of rehab.
It took a while to realize death was in my hospital room, keeping me company, just waiting for an opportunity to make its move. I don’t remember exactly when that realization hit me. I was also amazed at what I was willing to go through in order to survive that ordeal. I look back at it all now and I don’t know how I pulled it off. Somewhere, deep inside, in a place with no map, I dedicated myself to getting my life back and I fought with all my heart to get there. It is also a place with no words and unless you have spent time there, you can’t know.
I am thinking of all this now, because feeling really sick is a trigger, at least it is for me. When you’re feeling fine and everything is humming along, it is so much easier to let words like climate change and Covid gracefully roll off your tongue, stuff that happens to others. The horrible leg injury grabbed me by the neck and forced my face to look straight into the blindingly, tenuous nature of my time here.
When you are not feeling well, you dive deep into yourself, or at least I do. It is much more of an emotional ride than it is a well thought out state. The recent 24-hour spell was excruciating to endure. My brain took a brief vacation. Fear made its way up from the darkness, where it lives. It’s funny, in the midst of such an incredibly powerful experience, the last thing on your mind is sharing. When you’re feeling fine, you have to go shopping for that intensity.
Happily, I can now reflect on that time, only a few days ago. Fortunately, in the midst of this, I had a rare conversation with my dear friend, Eiju. How we met is not the story for now. He has devoted his life to the practice of Zen Buddhism. He is a priest in the tradition and a wonderful soul. Speaking with him is like talking to the Buddha, in the most beautiful way you can imagine I always joke with him that I am a Zen delinquent, unschooled and irreverent. When we speak, we are in complete harmony and I always end up crying.
When I told him how badly I had felt, he said it was part of life and something to embrace. I know it likely sounds crazy, but I got what he was saying. This is some damn journey we are all on and God knows, it doesn’t always go well. The losses I have experienced and the pain I have endured are all part of me. Right now, I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather be or what experiences I’d want to erase, because it would make me someone else.
I read about people’s suffering everyday, and it always feel distant because I push my own off to the side. It feels just a little closer today, and what a stupid opportunity for a word guy to let pass. Covid is not about numbers, it is about all of us. So much time is spent arguing and mistrusting each other, while empathy and compassion are less than an afterthought. Talk of the climate catastrophe is mired in statistics and percentages, while the true devastation doesn’t have a voice we can hear. Today, I think of the giant Sequoia, who have stood tall in their grand silence, bearing witness to all that has gone on at their feet, now fighting for their lives. On a motorcycle, bucket-list journey, around this time six years ago, I rode amongst them, awestruck by their majesty.
Eiju would probably say that embracing our own suffering, regardless of its face, enables us to join with all life, its coming and going and returning. I am glad I decided to do this.
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