There are periods in life where we choose between incremental work with regular breaks or long stretches of marathon work so we can take a long stretch of rest. I think both are important. We need routine in our lives. We need regular challenges and regular rest. But, there are also times we need to be stretched. We need moments that really challenge us and push us out of our comfort zones, and then we need an extended time of rest and exploration to counter it. This past week, really much of this past year, has been that lengthening of work so the coming rest will be easier to take.
This is not to say the work as been all drudgerous and burdensome. I am seeing growth in myself, I’m seeing things begin to happen that I’ve been hoping for. And, there was of course plenty of goodness to start with. But, we are inching near a time when I hope to shift the balance into other areas. Next week I am taking a solo trip–a going out into the wilderness sort of trip. I used to take trips like these regularly. I think they are necessary for me. Travel is a medicine to me. I have felt the need to cut back on it recently, but I am ready to be more my whole self.
Early in the week, camp hosted all the directors from camp sites in our conference. Since we do the same jobs, we are only able to gather at certain times and we rarely see each other in our elements, because that’s the time we’re all busy in our respective elements. But, when we manage to come together, it can feel like we are getting to have our own camp experience. One of the great things of camp when it is working right is that the people there feel like they get each other. We stayed up late each night past our regular meeting topics, just to play games, to talk, to watch the NCAA championship. As I walked home from the Edwards Lodge in the dark through the woods to my house, I was reminded of so many nights at Lakeshore that I stayed up late, involved in camp life, and walked back under moonlight. I could do this because I knew the paths from memory. I grew to love this time–it became sacred. It was a feeling I have missed, and it was good to have it back.
Though we are almost through Lent, I have not done very much to observe the season this year. I am normally very engaged with the Christian seasons like Lent and Advent. I get a lot out of fasting, having a focused set of rituals around certain themes. This past year has drained me to a point that I haven’t felt like I had the energy for those observances. I wonder if those are excuses. I wonder if they might have done me good, helped me heal faster. My mind is too occupied with other things. I’m too off balance to feel like I can pour myself into these things that have often brought me a great deal of stability.
On Thursday I was scheduled to have some routine bloodwork for an annual check-up. For this bloodwork I needed to fast 12 hours beforehand. Most rational people would go in for the bloodwork in the morning, skipping breakfast, but I felt the need to be at work, so I waited until the evening to go in. This became my first fast since Lent in 2016. For most of the day I did not notice that I had been skipping meals, because it was a light day at work. If you want a fast to mean anything besides crankiness, it’s important to treat it differently, not just like you’re powering through without food. It’s important to sit with the weakness it causes, to be humbled by it. I thought about these things intermittently, but not full on. After work I helped with an oil change that lasted way longer than it should because of a poorly placed oil filter by Chevy engineers. Still, I was content with my hunger, not cranky or hangry yet.
The reason I could do bloodwork at any time is because my local hospital conducts bloodwork out of the ER after hours. I knew this and knew it could be a wait if they were busy. I made it to the ER about 7:30pm. As I was getting paperwork completed an anxious couple probably in their 50s came in wanting to go back. I heard the woman say she had gotten a phone call and the only thing she heard was that “she wasn’t breathing.” The she in this case I inferred was a child, probably a grandchild. I was told it might be a while, and I was ok with that. I was getting more and more hungry, but I felt in a very privileged position to be healthy, for my family to be healthy, to have the time to sit in a waiting room and listen to podcasts. I knew I would be fed soon enough, and that was also a privilege.
I waited for about an hour. The doctor, named Matt, called for me and took me back into a room to draw my blood. He had white hair and was kind of surly. He cursed a lot, which endeared him to me. He asked me if I had heard the screams, and I told him I hadn’t. Evidently, they had had a long night, helping to revive this child. He seemed exhausted and a little cranky, but not downtrodden and low like he might have if he had lost a patient. I was happy to laugh with him as he stabbed me with the needle in a way that would bruise the next day. I told him he was a good man. He thanked me for waiting, told me they like patient patients.
I warmed up bratwursts from our baseball opening day cook-out. I took a moment to breathe in the smell of food before I ate. It is like a blessing just to wait for a moment before you eat. To take it in. To understand food is not a guarantee for us all. To know this is special. This will keep me alive a little longer. I tried to savor each bite, not to woof it down mindlessly as I’m sometime prone to do when I feel like I have too much to do. So many steps had brought me to this pause today. So many blessings. One can end a fast well by wrapping all those steps up into that experience of tasting. The taste is so much stronger when you’re hungry. It is good to put it with the other things you’d like to hold for some time to ponder.
On Friday the world seemed angry. There were high winds on the coast, gusting up to 65mph. There was a high surf advisory to go along with it. I went out to the beach to watch it, and the ocean looked especially powerful. It seemed to be crashing in all directions, tossing huge pieces of driftwood, sneaker waves bounding up to the feet of the treeline. When waves crested too high, they were blasted away by wind. I kept pushing throughout the day, hoping I would finish enough of my tasks that I could feel comfortable taking some time. I would pause every now and then to watch the trees being tossed around in those strong winds. In these turbulent days it is easy to tell yourself there is an endless amount of work to be done, that one cannot afford moments of pause, time to retreat and take a break. But I have also seen what the pauses have done for me. With the right spirit, I will come back better–the medicine making me stronger, more able to face the storms.