First it was my wife in the week leading up to the winter break with a cough and fatigue, fever and an aching body. Then it was my son over the weekend prior to the holiday, his flu spilling over into Christmas Eve with lingering symptoms for Christmas. Now it’s me in the days after Christmas leading up to the New Year. I find that as I get older, illness impairs my mind even moreso than my body. It throws me into an existential free-fall, and here’s why.
I work for a school, so am lucky enough to have every school break off: a couple of weeks off in the summer, winter break, February break, April break, and all the holidays in between. The rest of the year I work long hours, often out of the house by 6am and back by 5pm, with very stressful days, considering the type of intensive work I do. I sink into a routine of very exhausting work weeks, with recuperation time on the weekends. Because of this pattern, I tend to live each weekday with the motto, “There’s always the weekend.” I may be a wreck on weeknights, silently consuming my dinner or falling asleep at storytime, but I convince myself that I can make up for it on the weekends. I’ll be clear-headed and Saturday and Sunday will only be about family.
Then the weekend comes. There’s typically grass to be cut, or weeds to be pulled, or mice to be chased out of the basement. There’s a garage to be cleaned, or a fence to be mended, or a Home Depot run to be made. I know these things have to be done and, in a way, doing them is part of how I take care of the family. So they tend to take priority on weekend mornings. “If I can just get this done, then I can relax with my wife and son.” I start the task and it either runs late or my son is invited to the neighbor’s house in the intervening hours and is out of the house by the time I’m done.
“There’s always the vacation break,” becomes my new motto. If I can just make it to the break, then we’ll really have a good time. We’ll have several days of uninterrupted family fun time. Then something else happens to screw it all up. This time, it happened to be family illness.
Colds and flus as a kid, even as a young adult, were a welcomed break from my routine. As a kid, there was always someone to take care of me. I’d get to stay home, watch TV, pop in a movie, eat popsicles and drink ginger ale. Honestly, in my 20’s, it wasn’t much different. Colds and flus were a nice wake up call. They caused me to put down the books, the papers, and the work for a few days and just take care of myself.
Then my 30’s came, and wife and child. Colds and flus aren’t so much fun anymore. With my tendency to constantly push back quality time to weekends and then to vacation breaks, every second of down-time now feels precious. So when I find myself sick for a holiday break, I go into full-blow existential-crisis-mode. Lying shivering under the covers in sweat-soaked pjs, the following sequence of thoughts/questions arise in my mind:
“If I can’t spend quality time with my family now, then when will I ever spend time with them?”
“If I were more conscious of moment-to-moment existence, then I wouldn’t wait for these breaks.”
“If I push quality time off, it’s only because I’m lazy.”
“If I’m lazy, the years are going to speed by, and before I know it, my son will be off to college.”
“My son’s going to leave for college thinking his father is lazy and distracted.”
“I am going to die with a lot of regret about my son, my wife, and my life.”
“I’m going to die.”
Plus there’s the fever-induced dreams of dead parents, lost items, and flesh-eating zombies. It’s a pretty shitty sequence of events, but now they hit me each time I’m sick. No more fun and lounging like when I was younger, only physical/mental/existential crisis.
But thank goodness for sickness. It’s no wonder Siddhartha encountered a sick man on his jouney outside the palace walls. I’m encountering a sick man outside my palace of procrastination, and that man is me. Luckily I can step back and realize that my illness is just another lesson for me to absorb. In my early 30’s, I’d get sick like this and become despondent. I’d think to myself, “Well, that break was blown to shit. I hope the next one is better.” This time, I’m trying to use every ounce of my energy to wake up. I can still play a wicked game of Bey Blades while hanging off the side of the couch. I can still look over at my son’s giggling face as he chuckles and snorts as the sloth from Ice Age gets slapped upside the head. I can be here for my son and wife, even when I’m sick. If I can do it now, then I can do it when I’m healthy. I’m thankful for being sick, and hope to stop taking for granted the precious time I still have with my family.