30 August 2012

Infirmity, Uncertainty, Hope

In a few weeks, my 7 a.m. ride to the train will be in the dark, which made me appreciate all the more this morning's sun, the cool breeze off the East River, and even the mostly seamless way millions of people make their way across and around and over and under Manhattan every day.

This got me thinking about the uncertainties of chronic illness.  I've been dealing with the limitations of asthma for as long as I can remember.  When I'm "healthy," I can't forget that it's waiting to attack again, often completely unexpectedly.  I have to be flexible, and work around it when it strikes; I have to remember that each episode will pass to keep from slipping into despair.  I don't know what -- how -- who I would be without it.

I can no longer think of myself as a runner, planning for races far in advance: the past few years have been repeatedly interrupted by months-long periods of illness after which it takes months again to scrabble my way back to a basic level of fitness.  Family vacations organized around hiking have been scuttled or modified; sometimes I can't bike to the train to get to work.

The interruptions are frustrating.  But not being able to bike, run, or hike consistently means that when I can do these things, I don't take it for granted.  I notice with joy the feeling of my body in motion, the various parts functioning reasonably smoothly together.

Remembering forced inactivity in the past enables the contrast that allows me to see this, but the anticipation of future infirmity brings home the appreciation of what I can do now -- much as the awareness of dark mornings to come made me see the sun this morning.  "Hope is the thing with feathers, / That perches in the soul ... / And sweetest in the gale is heard."