For the past three weeks I’ve been coaxing my immune system to get busy and fix me. I think it’s been ignoring its job. The day I came home from our mini-vacation at Christmas Mountain I felt like I might be getting a cold. The next day I had a high fever and was mad I’d gotten sick. I rested as much as I could, and by the third day, I was better, but not well. I was down to a low-grade fever and an annoying, non-productive cough. Despite lots of orange juice, lots of rest, and three bottles of cough syrup in three weeks, I can’t seem to get back to normal. Mim finally bought me a big bottle of cough syrup instead of another little one. The cough is what’s most annoying.
I think I finally figured out why my immune system is ignoring its job. It wants to encourage me to learn something about illness instead of just pouting and complaining about it.
Last Friday, Edward Hays gave me a clue about this in the daily reading from A Book of Wonders.
Illness in Islam is viewed as a blessing and so should always be borne without complaint. When a Muslim inquires about another’s health, the customary reply is, “All praise belongs to God,” even if that person is sick. A devout Muslim believes that a sickness is a blessing as it is an occasion to cleanse oneself of past sins and because purification is the purpose of existence. Sickness as a blessing is balanced by seeing good health as an equal blessing, because it is a cause of joy and gratitude. We non-Muslims can adopt their response of praising God in sickness or health, in good times or bad, as a healthy habit.
In case I wasn’t paying attention on Friday, Hays’ reflection for Saturday was on the same theme.
In Budhism as in Islam, suffering is generally not seen as a failure of health or as a punishment, but as purification. The followers of Buddha compare suffering with a mystical broom that sweeps away past mistakes and failings. Yet how does being sick with the flu (or worse, afflicted with cancer) act like a broom? One possibility is that illness can sweep away our favorite illusion of being invulnerable and in control. Health, being a precarious gift, should call forth mini-prayers of gratitude every day.
Now, do I really believe that?
One of the blessings of being sick is feeling free to take all the time I want to sit back and read a favorite book. Or play some fun music on the piano. Or watch an old movie on TV. Or drink another cup of hot spiced wine. And daydream. I guess that’s part of the purification process – kind of like pressing the reset button. Thank God for the blessing of being sick for a little while – providing the opportunity for the 3 Rs – Rest, Relaxation, and Reflection. I guess that’s what I really needed.
I don’t know how long I’ll be coughing. So far, today is better than yesterday. But regardless, I think I’m learning “All praise belongs to God.”
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