Once upon a time, there was a man who never got sick. Early in our marriage, he unfortunately found himself in a house full of people who succumbed, one at a time, to the flu. It was a terrible flu, and the unspeakable symptoms shall not be described here but they lasted for a full three days, after which the victims rose again, and made their way shakily back to the land of the living.
And lo, the man who never got sick was not all that sympathetic. He was pretty sure that everyone was exaggerating things, and there was no swaying this opinion.
I finally just told him to shut up and keep his opinions to himself. It was obvious that people don't upchuck for the thrill of it, and furthermoreohwait. The unspeakable symptoms shall not be described here. (See reference, first paragraph.)
In any case, the great day came when, finally, everyone was back at the supper table. Some people were a little paler than others, some people ate with very small appetites, but everyone was there.
Tim was probably half way through that meal when he suddenly pushed his chair back from the table and announced, "Gees. I don't feel so good."
I'd like to be able to say that we were all very kind and sympathetic and compassionate to him, because we'd already suffered this terrible flu with the unspeakable symptoms (see reference, first paragraph). We knew what he was going through, and it was our opportunity to model the behavior that we'd like to see him display the next time he was around a sick person.
I can't though. It would be a lie. The general consensus around the dinner table went something like "Well, now you'll see" and our Tim staggered off to the sofa and fell immediately asleep clutching his stomach. We cleared the table and quietly gloated as a people who'd come through a terrible week when one or the other of us had one end or another over a toilet on a way more than regular basis.
Tim slept deeply, snoring as he is wont to do when he is exhausted. Suddenly he sat straight up quickly. We all knew the symptoms (see reference, first paragraph). We dove to get out of his way. He sat there blinking and said, "Man. I don't know what that was, but that was terrible!" And then he got up and went to the garage to finish a project he was working on.
In the shocked silence, Dylan wearily said, "If that man ever dies, we need to donate his body to science, because his immune system is no ordinary immune system."
'The Day that Tim had the Flu for Twenty Minutes' immediately became a family legend, a legend of the caliber of "The Day that Mom got Escorted out of the Wegman's with Two Nephews and Three Children." But that is a whole 'nuther story.
Tim has become a lot more compassionate in the intervening years, I am happy to report. He's been sick a time or two, been on the receiving end of comfort, and learned to be a bit more gentle with people that are ailing. My own bout with cancer put the final touches on Tim's education in compassion.
Now it's his turn. After suffering with a pinched nerve for several months, after insisting he thought he might be getting better, he finally went to a doctor, after I got good and mad at him. (Sometimes, compassion works, sometimes one needs to try another tactic.) It was as plain to me as the mustache under his nose that he wasn't getting better. One appointment led to another, and to another, and by the time that you read this, his surgery will be done, and he'll either be home or headed home.
We took each other for richer, and for poorer, in sickness and in health, etc, and in the course of our marriage, we've been richer, poorer, sick, and healthy. Neither one of us are the person that we were 14 years ago. We've come through good times, and hard times, and we've grown and evolved. We've learned to rely upon each other, to trust each other, to lean on the other when we cannot lean on ourselves. We're truly a couple now.
This latest experience has opened my eyes to another truth: how far we have come as a family.
The kids have checked in, are well and truly concerned for Tim. Questions have been asked, dates and times have been verified, what cell phone to call and when to do so. Encouragement offered, concern given, compassion shown.
I think of the beginnings, when we were first married, and trying to build a family. It wasn't easy. We all ran short on patience, and grace, but somehow, in the middle of richer and poorer, and in sickness in health, we have grown together, learning how to rely on each other, and to trust each other.
The lessons learned in the hard times are the lessons that knit us more closely together. Those words apply to marriage. To family. To friendships. To churches. To communities.
Nobody looks forward to hard times, but what wondrous gifts spring from them.