A Lesson

Dark Night of the Soul
11" x 14" mixed media on canvas panel
I have been ill for nearly a decade.

Long before I was bitten by a tick in Western Massachusetts, I'd been training with Tibetan Buddhist monks in Diamond Cutter and Heart Sutras. At the time, I considered myself ready for whatever task life chose to throw at me.

One day, Lama Pema took me aside after our meditation class. He told me what I was learning would help me during the trials to come. When I asked what he meant, he merely gave me a slight smile. "It will be a challenge," he said. "Yet no matter what happens, stay with your children."

Those words saved my life.

In October of 2009, I was forced to return with my children to New York City after the recession wrecked havoc on Rhode Island. During the previous ten months, the unemployment rate rose to well over 23%, there simply was no work. Flooding throughout Warwick and other regions in the state shut down the Warwick Mall and some major retail outlets, so even those jobs were out.

The other shoe dropped when the bank sold the three family house I resided in to private buyers in August. I rented the first floor of the house. Two other women rented the second and third floor. The new buyers evicted us and our combined seven children, giving us only two weeks to relocate. Such an eviction is illegal in most states, but it was common place to turn people out into the streets during that time. Providence had two enormous tent cities that were testament to this very fact.

I had so little money to move that I gave most of furniture and items in the apartment to neighbors even poorer than we were. Some of the kids who played with my boys slept on mattresses on the floor after their desperate families sold all their furniture just to buy food. My grandmother came to help me load my uncle's truck with mostly things for my kids. For myself, I took only what could fit in a single suitcase. Then we said good-bye to Providence for good.

After six weeks in Massachusetts with my family, I came to the conclusion that returning to New York would be increase my chances of gaining employment. In this, I was right. Within days of moving back, I had been guaranteed a high level management job running my own store in Brooklyn in early October.

Yet the day I was supposed to meet with the General Manager of the region, I could not get out of bed. Feverish with an unusual flu-like body ache that made moving excruciating, I would remain in that bed for an entire month while I lost a good portion of my body functions. I shrank down to a skeletal size 4 and required help even to go to the bathroom.

Forgotten was the bug bite on my upper left arm that had taken so long to heal while I resided with family. My symptoms began one week after the rash disappeared.  My children ended up in the care of my ex-husband while I was cared for by my best friend and his father.

I was in so much pain some days I prayed to die. Emergency room tests revealed no anomalies. I passed out frequently. I reacted to foods that previously gave me no issues. I slowly lost my rational facilities and descended into what friends thought was a mental disorder due to brain fog episodes. Others believed I had an eating disorder due to frequent vomiting episodes. After evaluations with normal results, doctors told me I was simply a hypochondriac who required a psychiatrist.

Even so, my ex-husband called me at the end of his wits. He couldn't keep a babysitter. The kids needed someone to take them to and from school in Queens. I heard the chime of bells while he spoke, then Lama Pema's voice reminding me to stay with my children. So everyday for a year, I traveled to Queens from Brooklyn with a two hour commute each way. This meant I spent four hours a day of traveling on public transit while using a cane to walk.

I remember this pain so well part of me almost flinches at the memory. Yet I did this everyday during what many would call the most devastating part of Lyme Disease. I spent three years undiagnosed while it wrecked havoc on my nervous system. Yet unlike those I met who lost all motor ability, I still have mine. I am not in a wheelchair. I am mobile and active most days. I have chronic pain, but not chronic brain fog.

Is it because I had a cure?

Not at all. In the past nine years, I have had endless oral and sinus surgeries due to mold infections I cannot fight off. I had an ankle surgery earlier this year due to "unexplained cartilage loss" between the bones. I spent a year with a heart pumping with extra beats no doctor could explain nor fix. I have tried a vast variety of drug therapies and treatments, most of which have failed.

No, I don't have a cure. I have survived because I had a reason.

Both of my boys were diagnosed as autistic. If I did not get out of that bed, travel those hours, and sacrifice, they would not get the help they needed. I fought pain to attend special needs hearings, evaluations, and meetings. I walked my kids to and from their school buildings every day. I tracked down autism studies, professionals in the field, and parents with more experience. I fought for in-home therapy and psychology appointments. And I would scream into my pillows during nights when my body rebelled against me for these effort, weeping for all I'd lost.

I was finally diagnosed by an emergency room doctor who noticed my autism bracelet and asked why I wore it. When I said my sons were autistic, he shared that his son was as well. He was the first doctor to actually listen to me in three years. After an evaluation, he said I had either Lupus or Lyme. I tested positive for Lyme Disease and made my way back towards healing. Full Circle.

These teachings on your path are preparation, not decoration.

Anyone can hang a certificate on a wall and call themselves a Teacher of the Way. But if you do not come to a crossroads in your life where all you have to lean on is your training, you will never learn why the path has chosen you in the first place.

I used my meditation training to overcome the type of pain I'd only read about in books. I relied on the yoga and tai chi I learned so I would not lose my range of motion. I chanted those sacred mantras to help me find my way back to my inner self and sanity. Even in my anger and despair, part of me recalled the words of my teachers and kept going. And even knowing where this path led, I would do it all over again without hesitation.

We are all ordinary people often placed in extraordinary predicaments. We battle for our lives within a constant war in our hearts. We strive in hopes that what we do here will matter in the face of what seems like an indifferent universe. And we get back up when we fall because somehow we know there is another chance to make it work this time.

You will fail on your path. This is a certainty. Yet these failures causing every cry to Heaven are the tests we must overcome to be who we are meant to be here. Our Earth is the classroom. Life is the teacher. Every moment is a lesson.

Time to pay attention. 
Be well on your path today. 

Respectfully, 
O.M. 

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