I have been at Mass General Hospital in Boston for a surgery to replace my hip, then several days afterward in a rehab facility. For me, these are all one hospital experience.
Time has stopped. It moves back and forth, stuck in a groove without progressing. Overhead fluorescent lights flip on, blanching the close corners of a room that is better left in shadow. Weary dusky rose walls, linoleum floors, and acoustic tile ceilings. Stuck time, stuck time, stuck time, stuck time, stuck time…is stagnant. I am present and aware (as aware as one can be on drugs) but the content of my moments and the situation generating the moments has no peace.
Food arrives on a brown cafeteria tray, a plate lurking inside a strange maroon plastic clamshell-thingy keeping food tepid during the delivery process. Opening the lid reveals a sad march of heavily-coated pastas, chicken or fish in soggy blankets of grease and crumbs, sodden vegetables, and rubbery eggs in shapes clean and round as ’60s bubblehead bouffant hairdos.
A figure appears at the foot of the bed. Almost before a greeting, we entwine in the ritual squeeze of the blood pressure cuff, as if it is unsafe to interact with me until I have passed this test that I am alive. Personnel come and go with needles, pills, and cheery, strident amped-up-on-caffeine (because I am their job) salutations and inquiries. How do you feel? On a scale of one to ten, what is your pain level? I am not ungrateful for this continual tending, however the large part of me that enjoys being alive has curled into a quiet interior layer of my breathing where, stretched on the swell and fall, she takes uneasy naps. She opens my eyes to glimpse out the window a drift of clouds behind the gold cupola of what was Police Precinct Number One in Boston’s North End and is now high priced condos, or the close fly-by of a seagull come up from the harbor to visit the hospital dumpsters, or on the window sill, flowers that Tessa, my niece, brought which seem like angels that have sacrificed their time of pleasurable swaying in a garden to sit by my bed and breathe the last of their life into mine.
I wait for my lunch date with my darling Ric. He brings me sprouted manna bread and summer rolls from Whole Foods and, one evening, a juicy red slab of prime rib which my body inhaled. He brings me kisses and his warm company. Yet in the hospital days, these brighter blessings do not move me out of Stuck Time.
While bones clasp the new metal pieces, while severed tissues reach to one another, twist together, and grow news fibers, while blood and lymph, encountering blocks in their routine passages, reroute, I wait. The best my observing self can do is step patiently to the side as the emergency crews whiz by, whiz by, whiz by.
In Sufi work, rest is ubiquitous. Rest concludes every period of practice—whirling, chanting, movement. It is the apex of healing and integration. The practices are nearly meaningless without this rest, which in early stages of the Path is time in hal, a balancing altered state, and later, in advanced stages becomes fana, annihilation of the egoistic self. In the hospital, my resting is actually an effort. Resting is the practice, the practice of refraining. Refrain from desires (because where does that lead but into dissatisfaction and frustration), refrain from impulse and reactivity, refrain from my personality full of structures while my body runs full crank to mend.
The hospital escalates my practice of patience and, in this case, fortitude since surgery is far more traumatic than anything meditation can dredge up. The safe, stable controlled world of meditation might allow former trauma to be remembered and resolved, but I am in the post-surgical sawed and sliced condition, an immediate trauma. Though my whole self agrees with surgery’s benevolent intent, the animal of my bones cannot help her fears and sorrows. She just cannot. My witness self sees the animal’s predicament and lets out a sigh of compassion.
I plunge my senses into the rustling trees, into damp fresh breezes that skip across the vegetable patch to swirl me in a fragrant foulard. The morning sun lifts the muted turquoise clapboard edge of the house to a lighter shade. Cone flowers jig their pink purple tutus from side to side. My tongue tastes the morning Lapsang Souchong tea. As I write, oxycodone pours honey into my hips and fuzz into my brain. Thoughts unravel onto the page without knitting into any shapely thing.
It is not the same summer as the summer at Ric’s 300 miles south in New Jersey. It is not memories of other summers, or the dream of tramping over the dusty New Mexico mesa past a rattlesnake curled in the shadow of a jutting stone. Summer rays out from my body the way a skirt swings out as you turn. When I whirled in past summers, mine unfurled into a smooth disk, my spine at the center, the hem at the edge, and the fabric between these points holding all the world that ever was and ever shall be moment by moment by moment. My skirt of current summer fills with seven brown sparrows grooming tiny morsels off a waving slender grass stalk, a seed sheaf slightly taller than the green bladed carpet. Such a shot of pleasure to detect details that have eluded me! Expansion of consciousness resides in the in-betweens. It resides in not skipping over the small. It resides in resisting the temptation to diminish experience into outlines. I bow to the sparrows, and to my hips that keep me still in my skirt of summer.
Thanks for reading and for sharing this with friends.
Not getting weekly blog notifications? Email me with ‘blog list’ in the subject line: