The following essay appears in our 2006 Print Issue 7 and is available for download in Kindle format.
While the world around me may associate physical vulnerability with weakness, I consider myself strong. I believe my strength is made of acceptance, adaptability and a resilient and open spirit. That is what is means to make oneself whole. Daily meditation has also helped me towards that goal and has influenced the changes in my perspective. Most people don’t think of a chronically ill person as having integrated their many attributes as a human being. They see me as lesser. But in reweaving the many layers of my being, I have come to honor myself as well as my connection with all of humanity.
As I go through the roller coaster of times of extreme pain and fatigue I remember the beautiful saying by the Polynesian navigator Mau Pialug: When the clouds cover the stars and you cannot get their help to navigate, go into your mind. Head for the Island even though it may be 2,000 miles away. Keep its image in your mind. Let the island come to you. While in parochial school as a young child, I was repeatedly told that despair was a terrible sin. However, I have found that plunging down and regrouping is part of the journey through a chronic condition. This zigzagging of the spirit is always part of my life. When I speak with friends who have suffered loss I realize that this is not unusual. I have come to understand that living with authenticity means embracing rather than denying the harsh terms of our existence. Only then can we begin to transcend such conditions. Nights I count my fears/ as if I were fingering beads;/the body’s slow betrayal, the upturned/ palm left empty, and the darkness/without a seeming exit/when a voice moves through me/telling me that doubt/is only one of my hands/clasping the other called faith.4
When I pause at the end of the day and question the universe, I sometimes get answers in my head, not complete answers, but the fragment of a thought that points me in a different direction. For example, once when I was still struggling with my many physical limitations, I found myself feeling “I’m worthless.” Then, the thought arose, “No one who loves is ever worthless.” Another time, I was lamenting all I couldn’t do when the phrase “You have everything you need in your heart,” suddenly appeared in my thoughts. Part of meditation has become a dialogue between the perplexity that continually arises as a result of living so close to the edge and the responses that come tumbling in my head when I least expect them.
MARGUERITE GUZMAN BOUVARD PH.D is the author or 12 non-fiction books in the area of women and human rights as well as 8 books of poetry, two of which have received awards. Both her poetry and essays have been widely anthologized.
A Resident Scholar at Brandeis University, Marguerite has received fellowships at the Radcliffe Institute, the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women and from the Puffin Foundation. She has been a writer in residence at the University of Maryland and has had residencies at the MacDowell Colony, the Yaddo Foundation, the Djerassi Foundation, the Leighton Artists’ colony at the Banff Centre and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
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