Wracked with sickness. Fever, shaking, chills. My face is a raging furnace one minute and then an arctic wasteland the next. Violent sneezing and snot blowing, mucus choking my nasal passages. Wheezing mouth breathing and difficulty swallowing. Aching at the impenetrable zero point of every joint.
What is happening to me. How and when did I contract aids. Am I the first victim of the oncoming flu epidemic. Is this malaria, typhoid, or the black death. Are my lungs filling with briny fluid. I can feel the freezing, boney, indomitable grip of death on my wrist, yanking me down into the kingdom of eternal darkness. I’m on the edge of an hallucinatory hellscape of flitting phantoms. Snarling jackals and wailing wraiths, a thousand nightmarish figures dancing before my dimming eyes.
One minute you’re healthy, and the next you’re a quivering mass of pestilence. My face could cook a chicken right now. Whatever is in my body is a scourge of god, an agent of death, genghis khan in bacterial or viral form. Now I’m back to shivering, teeth chattering delirium. Riding the breakneck rollercoaster of nameless disease, not knowing how I got here or where I’m going. This all happened so fast, suddenly without warning or time to prepare. I went to sleep sneezing and woke up on my death bed.
Illness and loss are opportunities for reflection. And my latest infirmity has given me a few lucid moments. The most miserable aspect of what I’m going through now isn’t the physical pain, it’s the isolation. I have no one to take care of me here. Being alone when you’re healthy is one thing, being alone when you’re sick is truly wretched. Family and close friends are important enough during the best of times, but they are absolutely necessary when misfortune strikes.
When drastic setbacks occur, who will be there for you? And you can ask of yourself, who would you help during a catastrophe? For whom would you sacrifice your time and selfish pursuits? I sometimes catch little clips of motivational speeches, and often they are some variant of “figure out what you love, do what makes you happy”. The focus almost always seems to be on you as an individual making some practice, job, or hobby the center of your life. But fixating on the what you’re supposed to be doing obscures the importance of who you’re supposed to be loving.
Who loves you and whom do you love? Those are the questions you need to answer. I’m not saying you should be miserable solely for the sake of others. But if you can’t figure out what to do, you’re moving around from city to city, relationship to relationship, job to job, sad, empty inside, self medicating, on anti-depressants, then maybe you should redirect your efforts. Maybe you’ll find peace and a quieter, more durable form of happiness in taking care and being taken care of. Especially over a long, continuous span of time.
The people we’re close to are more valuable than our idealized pursuits of individual excellence. Yes, be the best individual you can be, but don’t forget that you’re an intrinsically social, bonded animal. Human flourishing hinges on our ability and willingness to cultivate and maintain loving, stable relationships. Achievements and credentials ring hollow in a life spent cutting ties.