The Invitations of Illness
When I got sick with Covid-19 in early March, I had no idea that I was crossing a threshold. As my symptoms worsened, life seemed to tip on its side, tossing me from the comfort of a well-worn couch—from the steadiness of a body that obligingly did nearly everything I asked of it. I found myself tumbling through a doorway that wasn’t supposed to exist, at least not for me. And still, I imagined that life would quickly pivot again—my body would heal, it just needed a few weeks’ time—and when it did, gravity would deliver me back into the warm embrace of normalcy.
Instead, gravity has delivered me into what poet John O’Donohue called a “dark invitation” in his blessing “For a Friend on the Arrival of Illness”:
Now is the time of dark invitation
Beyond a frontier you did not expect;
Abruptly, your old life seems distant.
It does seem distant, doesn’t it—the days in which many of us lived at such a frenetic pace, that we rarely paused to question our direction? If I had to attach a one-word label to my pre-covid life, the most fitting word might be “YES!”
Another social engagement? Yes! Another extracurricular activity for my kids? Yes! Another mile on the trails, and a beer for the cooldown? Hell yes!
I tended to overlook the fact that every yes contains a no. All of the yes-saying to social engagements, volunteer commitments, Pinterest parenting, people-pleasing, and athletic achievement added up to some pretty big noes. No time—or at least nowhere near enough time—to be still. Not enough time to sleep, to write, to slow down and snuggle with my boys, to ask myself what mattered most to me, or to connect meaningfully with people outside my circle.
The dark invitation of long-haul Covid-19, at least for me, comes in the form of my body’s persistent and repetitive “No, no, no!” The doorway through which I’ve tumbled seems to built of those two letters, N and O.
My body says no to busyness, no to stress, no to vigorous exercise, no to heat, and no to beer. I’m gradually learning—with plenty of bumps and tantrums along the way—to be at peace with this. Why? Because these noes are not a dead-end. They build the doorway to a new room, with new yeses. What is the long-haul journey inviting us to say yes to? What do we bring with us into the space that waits beyond all those noes?
When our bodies say no to stress, we are invited to say yes to healthier boundaries, to abundant rest, and to learning to relax into our discomforts. Because my body says no to running, I am learning to walk slowly and pause to admire even the smallest wildflowers. Because my body says no to busyness and to non-stop doing, I sit still and write, just for the pleasure of writing. The constricting no in my lungs is teaching me to take slow and mindful breaths. The thick, blanketing no of brain fog is teaching me to take myself less seriously, to greet my foibles with humor and gentleness, and to close my eyes and be still. The no of a relapse or setback is still the hardest no for me to hear, and I usually spend some time clawing at the threshold, fighting gravity, before I remember to settle, soften, and rest.
When I sent my last newsletter (late and unpolished because of a partial relapse), I was greeted by a rush of warm and encouraging emails and comments. Thank you!Your words came as a powerful yes—a reminder that I’m not alone in this journey. You aren’t alone either. We are all doing the brutal and beautiful work of accepting the noes and finding new yeses. Thank you for letting me share this threshold with you!
As always, I would love to hear from you. Which noes are challenging you the most right now? What yeses might they contain?
P.S. Just for fun, I recorded a yoga video for you from my front yard yesterday morning. It features less-than-stellar audio quality (time to invest in a mic!), occasional swatting at bees, and a very gentle, recumbent yoga practice that I hope will feel accessible and nourishing to you even on hard days. Unfortunately, my Internet connection is slow and screams a big no at me each time I attempt to upload the video to Youtube. I’m hoping to find a resolution soon, so watch for a follow-up email from me with the link. Perhaps this yoga practice can be a tiny yes to set alongside your stack of noes!