It is March and once again I find myself in an in-between space. Winter’s back has been broken and the season to come is in the air and underfoot: strangely warm breezes gust up out of nowhere while I walk the dogs on the thawed roadbed. Here the condition of the road reveals the season: ice, mud, dust.
It is March and I have the flu. Influenza, which, I remind my daughter during a moment of melodramatic self pity, used to kill people willy nilly. It’s a rotten flu, and it’s a fairly complete one – hacking cough, tremendous head congestion, fever that just won’t quit – but it is just the flu. I’ll be fine in a few days and back out hiking again in a week. Despite the reality being that I’m just temporarily uncomfortable, I have been braying miserably to the world via Facebook, crying crocodile tears and calling the waaaaah-bulance on a daily basis. In the midst of this pity party, my dog had a seizure. Thanks, Iske, for offering a little perspective: she staggered, fell, convulsed, and then lay still in my arms. Hm. Maybe a low grade fever and a few body aches aren’t so bad after all.
This particular bout of flu, however, arrived on the heels of several significant life events. First, the completion of my round of the Catskill 35 in the winter (my W35 in peakspeak) occurred on March 6. Made all the more dramatic by my rather inflated sense of danger involved in the bagging of the last peak: we hiked in forty degree temperatures and steady rain for several hours, only to then fall through several feet of snowpack into an undersnow melt-off stream and then get stuck in hip-deep melting snow. If ever my immune system got handed a healthy challenge, this would have been it. But even more to the point: hiking 25 mountains in 2.5 months has occupied front center of my consciousness, and the lion’s share of my spare time, since December twenty-first.
Being excited, hiking every chance we got, and feeling completely driven to finish the W35 characterized much of the winter. In a way, this process was mirrored at work. My caseload just kept increasing and I kept scheduling appointments with a wing and a prayer, having faith and hope that “it’ll all come out in the wash.” But as winter ended, so did any shred of optimism about the future of my job. Recent announcements about fiscal realities coupled with a rumor mill working on overdrive leads me to suspect that my days are numbered. I don’t know if they number months or years, but I do know that the wind has gone out of my sails.
And so here I am, home with the flu, feeling past tense. The winter is over, the winter peaks accomplished, and perhaps the winter season of my career coming to a close as well. In one area, a dramatic triumph, and in the other, a wait-and-see game. The flu forces me to be still. It anchors me in the physical and the present tense, my monkey mind too exhausted and ill to swing from the vines of “what’s next.” It is hard to just be with the ending of an all-consuming project or the death of a career (ok, in honor of not being histrionic, awaiting word that the condition is terminal). I almost wrote “I can’t hike, I can’t run, and I can’t even practice yoga” but there I go again, equating yoga practice with asana work. One of my own pet peeves. A little santosha could go a long way here. Perhaps watching and observing all this flailing around trying to get better: hello, svadyaya? Might not be a bad time for some dharana either. Especially since I have been basically physically incapable of doing anything else. And we all know that I couldn’t possibly stop doing…
Being ill can bring me to my knees. Sometimes that’s kind of a good thing, if I can stay present once there. The hiking, the career, there’s a lot of Me First in all that. Although the hiking is out in nature and all spiritual and all that (wink), and my job is fundamentally altruistic (wink wink), I’m as ego-invested in it all as the next guy. My identity is all wrapped up in what I can do: how many peaks I can bag, how many clients I can help, how many progress notes I can write… being ill, as much as I have railed against heaven and earth for fully five whole days (oh, the injustice!), has been a gift. At the very least, a stop sign where I could take it out of gear, idle in neutral, and look both ways. I know where I am and I know this vehicle: I didn’t turn down Epiphany Road or ChuckItAll Lane. I’m still me and I’ll still do what I do. Next week.