Recently Christine Bird reminded me of a quote from one of my favorite writers, Flannery O’Connor. O’Connor, who died at 39, spent most of her short adult life struggling with lupus. In response to friends’ discussion of their travels, O’Connor wrote, “I have never been anywhere but sick. In a sense sickness is a place, more instructive than a long trip to Europe, and it’s always a place where there’s no company, where nobody can follow.”
This long month of January we have lived the truth of O’Connor’s words. Sickness is, indeed, a place. For Joe, the physical place is St. Joseph’s Hospital, where he has been for three weeks now. One of the more instructive lessons I’ve learned this long month of January is that sickness is its own world. It’s a place where things can simultaneously be a matter of life and death, and mind-numbingly dull. It’s a place where things once taken for granted, like breathing, become the focus of attention. It’s a place where dignity and autonomy are tossed out the window. It is not a place I would recommend anyone add to their list of places to see.
I am acutely aware that although I visit Joe in the land of sick for hours each day, he is essentially there alone. I go home in the evening. I go to the grocery store and the post office; I fill up the car. I get a break. For Joe there is no break.
That is not to say there is no progress. There is, but it is exceedingly slow. We know that eventually Joe will be released to rehab. We don’t know when that will be, but our case manager gave me a list of places to check out. Joe is very weak, so rehab will be another long road. We know that he will still be on oxygen when he leaves the hospital.
You may be wondering when I’m coming back to St. Dunstan’s. Senior warden Bob Longino and I talked about that again today. We decided that I will not be back until Joe is out of the hospital. Once he gets to rehab I will start coming into the office some and will be there on Sundays. This Sunday Deborah and Bill will be back with you.
I am so grateful to all who have kept things going in my absence — to Maggie, Deborah, and Bill, who have done all the priestly things; to the staff and vestry who attend to other parts of church life; to all who have helped pick up the pieces. And we are beyond grateful for all of the prayers and messages. I may not respond to all of them, but I read and treasure them all. We’re especially grateful to those who have reached out to Joseph Henry. This is not an easy time for him, either. Knowing that we are part of a loving community does make it easier.