Convalescence and a small transfiguration
Last weekend, strolling round a nature reserve, I saw something so beautiful it took my breath for a moment – a rabbit, nibbling on summer-lit grass with the June sun shining through the membranes of its ears: a commonplace creature momentarily transfigured.
The circumstances of this little epiphany were significant. Ten weeks earlier I had undergone surgery for a detached retina and this was my first solo outing behind the new spectacles which had put me at liberty to drive once more and – in combination with the skill of a surgical team – given me back the use of my right eye and made the left one serviceable again.
I have no intention of dwelling on surgical detail but what I learned during those weeks of initial forced inactivity, followed by ongoing dependency and vulnerability have an application far beyond my personal and temporary inconvenience.
I have been young and am not yet so old. I have been blessed with a robust constitution and beyond a few broken bones and an adult attack of chickenpox, I have had little acquaintance with physical impairment. This was the first time the fabric really had failed and it came as a shock.
When one is used to autonomy and, within the bounds of ability and morality, unimpeded agency, accepting restriction is difficult, but it also offers a gateway into heightened perception and the grace of accepting need met by kindness. And when the normal props are, even temporarily, stripped away, you have to sort theory from true conviction.
During the 72 post-operative hours in which I had to lie still in one position, I own myself sorely tested in this regard. Unable to read, in some discomfort and with no certainty that the operation would prove successful, I was a spectacular spiritual failure. I tried daily to hold a one-woman Meeting for Worship and I would not have been surprised if the Spirit had moved on in search of a more receptive heart. “And yet, and yet...” It is perhaps in the space made by that ellipsis that I have come to find meaning in this disagreeable experience.
“Someone will put a belt around you and lead you where you would not go.” We probably prefer not to dwell too long on Jesus' words to Peter. Most of us will of course, not be called to martyrdom as presaged by this warning. But that powerlessness is the daily, monthly, yearly, even life-long experience of many people. Disability, chronic sickness, poverty, exclusion and the fear associated with these conditions make for lives which differ hugely from the experience of those of us who are more fortunate. Without compassionate help, respect, friendship and love, minds and souls splinter into despair. My fleeting visit to the outermost edge of this terrain has shown me how much more we need each other than we may imagine; how necessary it is for us all to keep our wits alive to the realities of need; how responsible every single one of us, whatever our calling, is for our neighbour. Politicians, please reflect.
If I had the skills of an artist, I would paint that glow-eared rabbit as an icon to focus my chastened spirit on the gentle instruction of the Spirit.
© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.co/quakerpen
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