in sickness and in health

“In sickness and in health.” These familiar words are always slipped between so many promises one makes to another in marriage. They try to convey the depth of one’s commitment: I have made a choice to tie my life with yours, and I will stand by it through the ebbs and flows of life.

It is a vow made in love. One guarantees the other:

I will love you when you are unwell and need extra care. I will keep loving you if one day illness strikes and robs you of the ability to do the things you once could. Maybe even the very things that made me fall in love with you.

One promises love and takes the condition of wellness off the table.

A promise made from one to another. But can we make that same promise to ourselves? It is this question, and not the question of marriage, that has occupied my thoughts for the better half of this afternoon.

Allow me to elaborate:

I spent last week feeling pretty unwell. It was nothing serious: pulsing headaches, an uneasy stomach, an overall sense of dizziness anytime I tried to concentrate.

I resisted for a few days. I went to work, trying to sift through my inbox and check off tasks with the same focus I had just the week before. Back at home, I tried to force my body into the same shapes I can usually make on the yoga mat. But these attempts were futile. I simply could not function as well as I typically do. The pain got to a point where I had to rest for a few days at home.

And indeed, the sickness came to pass with extra sleep and plenty of soup.

Despite how commonplace my symptoms were, I somehow found myself unhinged. I woke up everyday feeling frustrated that I did not feel as good as I usually feel. I was angry with myself for not getting done as much as I usually do. I hated lacking the energy that I usually have.

The physical symptoms were uncomfortable. But the most painful part was that I could not love myself in sickness as much as I do in health. Looking back on last week, I realize I somehow resented myself for being unwell. For not being the same active, able-bodied, and generally healthy person that I usually am. I learned that so much of the love I have for myself is tied up in my wellness and productivity. I discovered that my heart needs to grow so much, so that I can love myself equally through times of sickness. It is going to take a lot of untangling, these knotted patterns of thought that my worth is inherently connected to my wellness and the things I am able to do.

In marriage, we choose to tie our life to someone else’s, and we do it (presumably) out of love. But what about the life we were born with, our very own, the one we are truly stuck with till death does us part? Can we dare to extend that same love and commitment to ourselves? In sickness and in health? Do you at least promise to try?

I do.

eight days of gratitude

Thanksgiving this year was magical. My friends and I managed to piece together a feast comprised of close approximations to the recipes we know and love from home.  Maybe it wasn’t mother’s stuffing or father’s turkey or auntie’s pie, but it was our best attempt at it, and that’s what counted. We each shared something we were grateful for over dinner. I felt inspired the next day to continue this gratitude practice. Why not keep it going? So here it is: eight days of written thanks, and an intention to create space for identifying gratitude and holding it close on all the days to follow. 

Day One: I am grateful for lazy Friday nights drinking sage tea and becoming friends with the characters of a novel. Losing track of time and Norah Jones playing softly in the background. For the days my body tells me it is tired and needs a break, refusing any posture except horizontal and wrapped in every blanket I could find in the house.

Day Two: Today is cleaning day in my apartment. Though there are many things I would rather do than scrub a toilet, I am thankful nonetheless for a home to maintain. In the evening, my roommate and I cook together and lounge on the living room sofa while listening to Christmas music. I am thankful moreover for someone to share this space with.

Day Three: One of my co-workers brings his three-year old daughter into the office today.  I introduce myself to her. A few minutes later, her father points to me and asks, “Zain, what’s her name?” She looks at me and says, “Khalto.” Auntie. I smile; close enough. She skips forward and offers me a peanut M&M. “Yellow,” she says, depositing it into my hand. I am thankful for this gift.

Day Four: Anticipation. I am thankful for this feeling that some may classify as anxiety about the future, a preoccupation with what is to come, rather than what currently is. What a blessing to have things for which I am so excited that I can hardly wait.

Day Five: Mindfulness. I am thankful for the work I am doing to get better at checking my thoughts about the future, moderating them and making sure they don’t overwhelm the present. I am not sure I will ever perfect this skill, but I forgive myself in advance for this shortcoming.

Day Six: The woman who is hired to clean our office a couple times per week teaches me an expression in Tamil. She is from India and she has been in Jordan for over a decade. Her Arabic is impeccable. My Tamil is nonexistent. But I am curious, and I ask her if she can teach me a few words. Now I can say ipresahum, which is, “how are you doing?” I am thankful for her generous patience as I stumble over the unfamiliar syllables.

Day Seven: When I am not at the 7iber office, I am working as a research assistant for a project with one of my instructors from grad school. She has me conducting interviews with refugees from Syria about their experiences of social connection. I am amazed by the networks of relationships people manage to patch together after so much destruction has worked to rip them apart. Gratitude is not the right word to describe what I feel about the privilege of hearing these brave stories, but maybe it’s close enough.

Day Eight: I am thankful for coffee made with care, and caring company to enjoy it with.