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Second Hand Sickness

One morning this week Caroline woke up feeling dizzy and nauseous; she can hardly walk without toppling and barely has the energy to crawl out of bed. She has MS, so we assume it’s caused by one or more of the sclerotic plaques on her brain, brain stem and spinal cord. There’s nothing to do—no medication to take or any point in visiting the neurologist. He’s very kind, but just shrugs. We had a dinner invitation; I called and cancelled. For Caroline and me, this is ‘normal’ or, at least, one variety of it.

Everywhere I go, people stop and ask me how Caroline’s doing. Usually I say a polite, ‘fine, thank you.’ Sometimes I feel they really want to know, and I tell them what’s happening. They all agree on one thing: Caroline’s great—so brave, so inspiring. Some people even ask me how I‘m doing, which is nice. That’s when I appreciate my training as a monk—no, not the esoteric philosophy and cool tantric images but the acceptance that sometimes sooner or later, life brings something unwelcome. Thirty years of mindful reflection has prepped me for reality. Even though the most well-intentioned just don’t want to hear that, the truth is that sometimes—not often—I find Caroline in tears, pondering a slow and ignominious decline.

And then there’s me. When our initial friendship began to wax romantic she urged me to run for my life, lest I end up burdened with an invalid. How fair is it that I get stuck with someone who’s always sick, who can hardly go out and never knows if she’ll be able to do tomorrow what we plan today?

How fair? Well, it’s my choice. I get so much from Caroline; I consider myself a lucky man. That‘s not my problem. However, my sense of helplessness is an issue. When I walk in on one of her rare depressions, I want to fix things, but I can’t. When she’s symptomatic I want to tell her that everything will work out fine, that the symptoms will go away and not come back, but I can’t. All I can do is listen as she explains what the plaques are doing—some of it invisible and weird—and hold her hand. Thank God—or Buddha or someone—I learned to accept, and especially how to listen. I can make meals, help her around the house and do her share of the chores, but she hates that. Nothing gets to her quite like the helplessness. Me too, though mine’s different.

Others assure her that ‘they’—the Hippocratic powers that be, I guess—will find a cure, that we ‘must keep up hope;’ or, they regail us with anecdotes of natural food diets, homeopathic cures and ayurvedic medicine. People are preternaturally unwilling to believe  that sometimes there’s nothing we can do. After countless promises of medical advance—and subsequent disappointment—we’re more sceptical than most, but they‘re inspiring examples of the human spirit; their solutions at least help them deal with our bad news.

The funny thing is, we’re really happy together. We live our restricted existence in the bright light of day, notwithstanding moments of gloom. Caroline bubbles with new ideas and projects; frankly, I have trouble keeping up with her—really, that’s not a platitude. Her sadness is a passing thing, and so’s mine. Life goes on. We recall that the oppression’s a passing mood, and don’t identify with it—not, at least until it ovewhelms us again. It happens. Then we follow its contours until we remember, this is something that’s happening to us. It’s not who we are. For a while it dominates, but then the ball’s back in our court, and we fit the MS in when we have time; it doesn’t control our every situation.

I was born asking awkward questions, and so was Caroline. We’ve both always second-guessed the things that everyone else takes for granted. That’s why we clicked, even though we’d grown very used to no one getting us. Somehow, for some reason, we’d been born under Socrates’ star and just believed that the unexamined life’s not worth living. Once we collided with each other, we found our union a magnet for other souls willing to question common sense and accepted truths. That’s when Quiet Mind Seminars was born. For me, who spent most of my life running from society, it’s a source of society I trust. For Caroline, who started out cripplingly shy (yes, really), it’s a spring board to her New Way Personal Life Coaching and a discovery that she’s got more to offer than she ever imagined.

Each of us took most of our lives to find our predestined professions. Now we’re there. Ahh! I’ve never been happier than with the brave souls who listen to my Quiet Mind Seminars, and Caroline’s perfectly at home, perfectly empowered, and unbelievably empowering as a personal life coach.

Life goes on. Thanks to you all for being part of it; it wouldn’t happen without you.

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2 responses to “Second Hand Sickness”

  1. Falk

    All I can do is shine a radiant healing light of love and kindness both your ways . Will it help…..I really believe so. The Taoist proverb comes to mind: maybe so….maybe not.

    Thanks Falk. You’re a good bloke!

  2. Meg

    Hi Stephen, just to let you know I am reading and checking in with your blog and I have your new book on my bedside table. Caroline is an inspiration! I think of you both often, and I enjoy reading your blog. It is a peaceful place for me to go and read when I officially have too much going on! : ) Cheers to you both.

    Great to hear from you Meg. It’s good to know the blog’s bringing in old friends

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