Feeling Sorry for Myself
I try not to feel sorry for myself. On Monday afternoon I was tempted to indulge. I was sitting at school recalling when I had the energy to do whatever I wanted. My ankles hurt like crazy. I am not talking about the occasional aches and pains I sometimes feel when the weather changes. I am talking about unrelenting soreness. I kept pointing my toes and trying to stretch my feet as if I danced on them in the ballet. This made the bottoms of my feet cry out as if I had a cramp in the arches of my feet. My knees hurt. There was nothing I could do to tease the pain out of my joints. Every time I stood up I felt like I stood on a tack. The pain went from my foot to my knee and made everything in between vibrate. My teeth were clenched to the point that my jaw ached. The back of my neck felt like a taut bow. The pain started when I went to the bathroom. My bladder was so painful that I was panting through the process of urinating. I had spent the day going from one excruciating moment to the next and I still had a three hour lecture ahead of me.
I knew that once I started the lecture I would feel a little better. I can be distratcted from the pain by my students. But three hours without a trip to the bathroom would make that next trip so much more painful. One of the only ways to combat the pain of radiation cystitis is to drink lots of water and go through the pain with so much frequency that you eventually stop gritting your teeth and bearing down.
I was feeling sorry for myself. I was remembering how a year earlier I was just starting to suffer from the combination of weekly chemotherapy and daily radiation. I thought it was awful when I went to the bathroom every ten minutes through the night. I was so tired that I wondered how I could keep carrying on as if life had not changed dramatically. How many hours of each day did I spend in waiting rooms with a full bladder so that my bladder would push my bowel out of the way during radiation? It was excruciating. But it hurts even worse now, nearly a year after radiation has ended.
I went onto Youtube.com and watched military homecoming surprises. That’s right. For about two hours I watched children going on about their daily lives until they realized they were in the presence of a parent who had been away for four months, seven months, or twelve months. One contractor had been away for twenty-four months. It broke my heart to see them run into their parents’ arms. Little children so young I thought they could not possibly remember their returning fathers ran to daddy. A young boy buried his eyes and nose into the gap between his father’s collar and the reddened skin of his father’s neck. His arms were wrapped around his dad’s neck and his hands dug into the back of his dad’s uniform. Sometimes two or three children piled on a parent. One young girl prepared to perform a cheer for her mom when her parent crept into the room to watch. Her face went from strong to soft. Her lips wobbled. She jumped into that first hug.
The children were sometimes aware of the cameras that surrounded them. I felt bad that I was watching that private moment when they no longer had to put up a brave front. None of us want others to know just how lonely life can be when the ones we miss the most cannot be there for us. There was one girl going through a painful stage in her teen years. She wore clothes that expressed her awkward youth, her uncertain entry into womanhood without the approval and support of the first man she’s ever learned to love and trust. When her dad walked in, she was unleashed and yet frightened by the force of her need. You could tell because when she wrapped her arm around her dad’s neck her fingers were curled in upon themselves. She was trying hard to hold onto some measure of self control even though her knees had lost their starch and her eyes were filled with tears.
There were videos of dogs being reunited with their owners, too. Some of the dogs were beside themselves with excitement even before the door opened and they were free to leap into a soldier’s arms. They wiggled and wriggled and jumped. They cried out like children. They squealed with pleasure.
There were girl friends, mothers, and dads. There were wives and one or two husbands.
The soldiers themselves were stoic. They stood while children and other persons launched themselves. They held others up. They let their loved ones wrap them in gift boxes, arms, legs, and limbs. They rested their hands on childrens’ heads. They kissed cheeks and patted backs.
You could not watch these reunions without realizing that there are people across this country holding in and holding back so many feelings that they ache to release. They are frightened. They are lonely. They are strong. They are brave. There are sacrifices that cannot be measured in months apart because, regardless of modern technology, there are distances that cannot be spanned even by seeing an image or hearing a voice. There are people whose fear that a loved one will not return is exceeded only by the fear that they are letting others down if they need their families too much.
I may be in a lot of pain every day, but I am free to experience that pain. I can close my eyes and grimace. I can pant or cry. I can share my experience with others. I can lean on loved ones for support when I am exhausted by it. I don’t have to suck it up, shut it down, or show others my game face if I don’t want to do do so. I can take pain pills. I can hide in my bed. After watching those kids’ suffering, their relief, and their joy, I decided I had no good reason to feel sorry for myself.
I was emotionally exhausted by the idea of how much sacrifice we ask of people who let their loved ones serve. You never know what challenges you will have to face in life. You may think your own challenges are more than you can bear. Bear them anyway. The resilience of the human spirit is a marvel. I got up from my chair and walked into my classroom with renewed vigor. In the process of appreciating the strength of others, the tension in my feet, ankles, knees, neck, shoulders, jaws, and face eased. I was feeling humbled by the sacrifices of others. I was feeling cameraderie because sometimes we cannot share joy or celebration, but we can still share the struggle. I was inspired to carry on. I’ve been feeling a little better every day since then. Maybe tomorrow will be a good day. Maybe tomorrow will be the day when families will be reunited and everyone can celebrate another homecoming.