For much of the past week I’ve been entertaining a ‘flu virus that finally brought me to my knees, or at least to my bed, on Sunday afternoon. I’ve felt it lurking about for quite some time — maybe three weeks now. It started when I woke up one morning and my throat felt like it had had sea salt rubbed into it by a particularly spiny and enthusiastic mollusk. Next, my nose was flooded with a tide that swooshed its way uphill towards my sinuses. This was followed by several mornings when I struggled to climb out of the waves of sleep, only to feel as though I’d turned amphibian and was now living permanently underwater, all sounds muffled by the encroaching tide.
Then I heard the doorbell ring.
For a while, I managed to ignore the flu that was banging on my front door. I did this by ingesting massive doses of oil of oregano and falling into bed each night at nine o’clock. But my visitor would not go away. He knocked and called and pounded. He demanded to be let in. So, with as much grace as I could muster between bouts of sneezing punctuated by breathtaking coughing fits, I opened the door and made my visitor welcome.
Now, I know from long experience that there’s a protocol to entertaining an illness. He (or she!) wants to be acknowledged; wants to be honored as a distinguished guest, an angel disguised in a Kleenex tuxedo. He likes to be seated in the most comfortable chair, and offered cups of mint tea and the best brioches in the house. And why not? Like any good guest, he comes bearing gifts. And the timing of his visit is impeccable.
I don’t get sick very often, but when I do, it’s almost always when I’ve arrived at a new cliff-edge in my own growth, and I’m trying not to look at the abyss just beyond my feet. Usually, for a while before illness knocks on my door, I’m Very, Very Busy. I plunge into my work with great efficiency and enthusiasm, Getting Things Done, sometimes months ahead of schedule. I give my lovely clients extra time on their hour-long sessions with me because it’s important to Finish What We Started. I answer all my emails on the very day that they arrive in my Inbox, and get my tax information organized with such brilliance that my accountant phones to thank me for making his life so easy during his busiest season.
All the while, out of the corner of my eye, I warily watch the crumbling cliff-edge beside me, smell the sour whiff of guano lining its plunging sides, and hear the sea smashing against the rocks a thousand feet below.
Beyond the warm light cast by my lovely house, beyond the fringes of my friendly back yard, lies the Vast Unknown. It’s dark out there; the sea unfathomable, un-crossable except by putting my life on the line. The bushes are scary, the towering fir trees on the cliff’s edge writhe in a cold wind. And I’m supposed to leave my comfortable home and find a way to cross this ink-dark sea?
No thanks, I say. I’m busy!
So I scurry back from the edge, my heart pounding, my palms sweaty, my nose running — pretending a nonchalance I don’t feel. Back to the safety of my house, my front door, my living room.
And then, there’s that knocking.
Ah yes, Mr. Flu, come on in. What can I do for you? A conversation, you say?
And that’s where we begin — where the voyage that’s calling me now begins. With a conversation. Mr. Flu and I lie in bed with a growing mound of Kleenex on the floor beside us, a big box of tissues clutched to my breast, cocooned in a warm down quilt with a hot-water bottle snuggled against my feet. Hello, I say, to Me, Myself and I. Who wants to tell me how they feel about this sea we have to cross? Where is the boat of my heart? The raft of my belly? The timid self who wonders: are there sharks out there that will eat me? The practical self who demands: just how are we going to get down that cliff any way?
We talk and talk. Not all at once. I stop to sleep, and eat, and blow my nose, and do other things too tedious to mention. But we talk. I find out that my body wants more time to rest and play and goof off. It doesn’t want to so much as look at a clock for a very long time, and as for email — phhhtt!.
The boat of my heart is already on the sea and is so happy to be there, to be launched on this new adventure. There’s such space and freedom here, it tells me, and friendly waves to carry us to new shores. New places to explore; new people to meet. A new life to live. There are stars to light the way, and the wide arms of an encircling horizon to welcome and shelter us. Hooray, it says! Come on in!
My belly asks, wistfully: who will go there with me? Are the natives friendly on the other side? Above all, who will I be when we get there? Will I recognize myself?
My legs say: I’m not going if I have to leave my friends behind! My head is too stuffed to say much of anything, which is very unusual because it’s the real extrovert in the family.
Many conversations later, I begin to feel a bit better. Mr. Flu goes home to get a change of clothes and bring me some soup. I walk to the cliff edge in my pyjamas in the clear light of day, and admire the muscular rippling of the shining pewter waves. Take in a deep breath, through my snuffly nose, of the briny sea air.
An eagle calls from overhead and asks if I want a ride to the beach below.
Soon, I say. Not quite yet, but soon.