What I love about roller coasters is that rush of exhilaration that comes after a long climb up a hill and a breathtaking few seconds of hovering at the top of a towering peak. Then whoosh! It sweeps sharply downward, taking its passengers with it, completely at the mercy of forces beyond their control. As many before me have said, life is like that, except that the ride downhill is no fun at all. This hit home three years ago, when a nasty virus attacked the nerves in my neck and back, causing headaches, nausea, muscle spasms, numbness, lost of taste and tears, hypersensitive sense of smell, and even an inflamed scalp. Worst of all was that my deadline was coming up fast.
Having hit the bottom of that roller coaster ride, I had to come to terms with a sudden inability to do the simplest things — smell the aroma of coffee first thing in the morning, read a book, or even sit at the computer to work on the next chapter in my mystery-in-progress. Instead, all my energy went into not moving so I didn’t bring on more pain. My world narrowed to my house, then to my bedroom, then to what was immediately in front of my face, as the pain intensified.
At first I wept a lot. When that got old, I started focusing on the things I could see in my limited area. Most often it was my husband’s face, as he gazed into my eyes and assured me that he would be there no matter what happened. To counteract the depression that set in, I began to look for even the tiniest signs of improvement. One day, three weeks after the virus took hold, I sneezed. It was a major victory. The next day my eyes watered. I wanted to pop open a bottle of Champagne, except that it would have made my stomach hurt. The day my sense of taste returned was a real cause for joy.
That was when I realized that on that long upward climb of my daily life I had lost sight of the things that really mattered. They weren’t the new jacket in my closet, the cruise I wanted to take, or even my lovely, comfortable home. First and foremost was my health. Because when I lost it, when pain had a choke hold on me, every moment became an ordeal, for me as well as for those who care about me. Living with that virus also gave me a new appreciation for my loved ones. When was the last time I’d told them I loved them? And then there were the small joys – the aroma of soup simmering on the stove, the taste of chocolate, the thrill of opening a new book and becoming lost in it — all things I’d stopped noticing.
My very wise grandmother told me long ago, “Thank the Lord for boring days,” and now I understand what she meant. There’s nothing exciting about them, but there’s nothing bad, either. Today, all of my symptoms have disappeared and I’m once again on the climb toward that next hill. My hope is that wherever I am, I won’t lose sight of those important things or worry so much about the inevitable lows and forget to enjoy the moment.
There’s always a valley after the peak; then again, there’s always a peak after the valley. It’s the rhythm of life. In the meantime, thank the Lord for the boring days.
Author of The Flower Shop Mysteries