catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 13 :: 2007.06.29 — 2007.07.13


Pondering deficiency

I remember not being too alarmed by the concerned fragments of conversation I picked up surrounding my little sister’s hernia operation.  I remember getting news of a favorite teacher’s death from cancer and I know I was sincerely upset, but I still wonder whether I used my tears to manipulate the girl who was yelling at me before the somber voice came on the loudspeaker.  I remember visiting my dad in the hospital after a tonsillectomy. 

When I think about my experiences with illness, I realize that I’ve always had the advantage of observing from a distanced perspective, a moviegoer who’s always the watcher, never the watched.  At times, the distance was provided by parents’ discretion or a lack of personal relationship with the afflicted or even just a sense that ‘everything would be okay’, but I also sense a theme of some kind of emotional deficiency in myself.

I re-read Graham Greene’s A Burnt-Out Case last fall because I’ve long recognized the potential symptoms of emotional leprosy in myself—a numbness that may or may not be mistaken for some kind of ‘inner peace’.  A Burnt-Out Case is the story of Querry, a successful architect whose revelation that he’s never truly loved leads him on a journey to the furthest corner of the world he can possibly find—a leproserie in the Congo.  Throughout the novel, both Querry himself and other characters liken his state of being to the most advanced phases of leprosy.  “I am too far gone, I can’t feel at all, I am a leper,” Querry writes.  A ‘burnt-out case’ is a leper who has had the affected parts of his body amputated before being cured—the amputation becoming the less-than-ideal cure that removes the possibility of feeling altogether.  I can’t say I identify with Querry to the extent that I would say “I can’t feel at all,” but I do often sense the potential for numbness, particularly when I’m around people who are capable of exuberance and despair far beyond what I’ve ever experienced.

It seems indulgent to name my own self-diagnosed ‘illness’ in the context of an issue about sickness in which others are elaborating on their own experiences with chronic pain, cancer or the suffering of a child.  But it’s an illness (and its cure) that are close to my heart at the moment and it affects my experience of the illness and suffering that surround me.  Perhaps it’s a desire to feel more intensely that drives me to travel unfamiliar rivers to extreme circumstances, most commonly characterized in my own story by financial instability.  And perhaps it’s a weakness that sometimes manifests itself in strengths—patient listening, reasonable advice, dependable diplomacy.

A couple of weeks ago, I experienced some form of heat exhaustion, or maybe even heat stroke, for the first time in my life.  Too much sun exposure combined with a lack of water left me nauseated on the bathroom floor, disoriented, overheated without being able to sweat.  That particular story had a happy ending, but I can’t help but wonder what sort of emotional stroke might result from too much suffering exposure combined with a lack of emotional expression.  Is the prescribed treatment the same?  Back off the despair and take liberal amounts of unrestrained emotion?  In the most extreme cases, it’s recommended to call the paramedics immediately.  As I’ve not reached the emotional emergency stage of Querry, perhaps the appropriate response is to seek advice from the ‘professionals’ around me for preventative care.  It is, after all, a “true medical emergency that can be fatal if not promptly and properly treated.”  Realizing that the Spirit can work through emotional responses and that both my ethnic and faith traditions have a predisposition toward this condition, I suppose I had better seek consultation.  And prayer for healing?  Yes, I think so.

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