Of Hospitals and Humility

As some of you may have noticed, I have been absent from this blog for over a month. The short story is that I had a perforated appendix, spent 17 days in the hospital then went back to my parents house for another few weeks of recovery. The long story is pretty much the same with more details.

My trip to the hospital was essentially unexpected (I had been in pain for a few days but didn’t think it was hospital worthy) and the lengthy stay was completely unexpected.  (If you are suffering intense pain, I suggest you at least see a doctor. I shrugged it off for several days which didn’t help anyone.)

I went to the ER the Monday before Ash Wednesday. As I told a friend a few weeks later, so far this Lent I had not had meat, bread, milk, eggs, cheese, candy, cookies, ice cream, alcohol, coffee, tea, chocolate, and probably more. It was an unintentional fast, but a fast none the less. In addition to having access to little in the hospital, I learned how little I needed to get by. Illness, particularly serious illness, forces you to pay closer attention to what is at hand, what you can do without, and why you can do without it. I went to daily Mass the Monday a week and a half before Ash Wednesday. I did not make it to another Mass until the Fourth Sunday of Lent. For me, that was an unprecedented gap (save the 20-odd years I wasn’t Catholic). In this I had to look at the why I went to Mass, beyond the simple fact that it was “the right choice.”

For 17 days I couldn’t do what I used to do, the things (like going to Mass) which I had done to, in a sense, define me. I could hardly read, study, write, etc. and these things were fundamental to the way I presented myself. This met another aspect of a hospital stay, that of basic humility. I was at a point where I could do more or less nothing for myself. It was not unlike being 3 again.

Humility strips you away. Or rather, it strips away the things we call ourselves while leaving our actual selves behind. All the toys, from laptops to tablets, televisions to cars, become more and more superfluous, things on the side that we invested too much in. Even my prayers had to go (not prayer itself, but the forms and sets of prayers I had invested in; I pray this at this time, in this way. It became something much less structured and clear, thoughts became shorter and words simpler. But it was still prayer). What is left are the bare bones of fear and desire; and of faith, hope, and love.

The problem, of course, is getting out of the hospital, because everything you left behind is waiting for you, from computers to the ability to dress yourself. I have learned what I can live without; now I must learn how to live without it, for blessed are the poor in spirit.

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