Today is the last full day of vacation. Shannon, the kids, and I have been at her uncle’s cabin outside of Boone, North Carolina. As much as I love the beach, it has been nice to escape to the mountains this year, to enjoy the cooler air and the beautiful views.
It’s been relaxing for the most part. Four kids always stretch the limits of “relaxing” but overall, but overall it has been enjoyable.
A couple of days ago we went out on a pontoon on a lake in Tennessee. Again, it was beautiful. The weather was perfect. The kids loved jumping into the water from the boat and swimming in the lake. They named the ducks that came after the vote, ducks who have clearly been conditioned to expect bread from humans. I love the water, and I’ve always found it healing to be near and/or in a large body. It reconnects me with the awe and mystery of the Divine. It also connects me with my fear (both dread and reverence) of the Divine and I got an unpleasant reminder of that fear.
Shannon and I decided to race each other across the lake. The distance was maybe a football field’s length. I knew it was far for me, having never been a very strong swimmer and having not been swimming for years. Still, pride, ego… oh, and I thought it would be fun. And, hey, the Olympics fill everyone’s minds with delusions of grandeur, right? As the race started, I got a good head start on Shannon. I saw her as I looked behind me then looked ahead to the other side of the lake. So far, so good. Then, for the life of me, I couldn’t catch my breath. I started to fall behind. I floated on my back for a bit, trying to get my wind back, then I slowly made it to the other side. My heart was pounding and began to hyperventilate. After a minute or so, I told Shannon that I was fine and she began to make her way back across the lake to the boat. I was not fine. I was sitting on a log on the shore with my legs dangling in the water and catching my breath seemed impossible. Then something, a fish I suppose, started nibbling on my dangling legs. It didn’t hurt but I was startled and I panicked. I jumped back into the water and started swimming back to the boat. I swam out a bit then realized that I had nothing left in the tank. I couldn’t get any air into my lungs. Several things dawned on me at once: 1) holy shit, I’m having an asthma attack! 2) holy shit, I might not make it back to the boat. By this point, Shannon was most of the way back to the boat and I began screaming for her to come get me. I alternated between treading water and floating on my back as she got back to the boat, settled the kids, and then drove back out to scoop me out of the water. I was scared. I was embarrassed. My whole body hurt. I couldn’t catch my breath for the remainder of the day.
So, a couple of fun facts about me and asthma: in middle school, around the time I started playing sports, I was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma. I’ve done zero research on this, but I assume that this is asthma’s most pervasive form. I had inhalers to use before practices and all was well. As I got older, and my exercise was mostly limited to work outs at the college athletic center, I stopped doing much to maintain the asthma. I got back to using a regular maintenance inhaler when I started running in 2011. I’ve not been running much, so I haven’t really used my maintenance inhaler. I’ve never really carried a rescue inhaler. For the most part, asthma has been something that I have ignored. Funny thing about the stuff you ignore; your lack of acknowledgement doesn’t make it go away. A lesson hard learned this week.
I have a bad habit of ignoring things, especially when it comes to my health. I like to pretend that I’m not asthmatic, or lactose intolerant, or clinically depressed. I’d rather not take drugs for things. I believe myself strong enough to work through things. Not only do I lose sight of how that can affect me, I forget how it can affect other people. By the way, a sincere apology to anyone who has had to be around me when I have not taken my medicine for my lactose intolerance. It’s ego and I know it. I want to be stronger in mind and body than I am and oftentimes feel ashamed for needing so much to live. Yes, this goes along with the theme of not wanting to acknowledge that I have needs.
Before coming down on vacation, I spent a few days in Rochester, visiting with a friend and going on a spiritual retreat. During the retreat time, I took the opportunity to reread some of my old spiritual favorites. in particular, I fingered through Henri Nouwen’s classic “The Wounded Healer”. Nouwen describes our places of woundedness, suffering, and need as those things that connect us with the whole of humanity. I realized as I reread those words that I have wanted to be outside of humanity… no… that I have considered myself outside of humanity whether I’ve wanted to be or not and that part of why I reject having need is my rejection of being just like everyone else. I reject it in part out of pride, but mostly because I don’t feel like I am like everyone else. I feel separate, outcast, and alone.
In that moment, I also became aware of another place of ignored need: my spiritual life. While i have been meditating regularly, that almost feels more medicinal than spiritual. I connect to God in my garden for sure, but it’s not been enough to fill the need. I used to spend hours in study and prayer. I used to journal frequently. Even in more professional life, my sermon preparation was something of a spiritual discipline. I always felt like I got more out of my sermons than anyone else, because the time of preparation was so rich. I miss that. I feel my spirit gasping for air just as my lungs were in the middle of the lake. I’m running on empty.
The event in the lake was a wake up call. I can’t continue to neglect myself. I can’t neglect my body. I can’t neglect my mind. I can’t neglect my spirit. It is time to refuel. It is time to handle some long deferred maintenance. It is time to care for the needs that only I can tend to. What this means, I don’t yet know, but I do know that it needs to happen and that it needs to happen soon…
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