“As long as you don’t lose your mind, all outer strife is inconsequential.” Teresa of Avila
One advantage of having a broken wrist and bronchitis at the same time is that since you know you can’t do much, you can more easily accept that you will be taking the days slowly. You can give yourself over to your body’s natural rhythms, rising with the sun’s blossoming light, and waiting until after the fireflies begin to blink in the meadow before going to bed. Meals and the after dinner walk down the driveway are focal points of the day. This all seems fairly good. You tell yourself you are learning to live with a different rhythm and not to worry about accomplishing things. Here at the farm cottage outside of Assisi, I wake each day to an enormous oak that expands its arms across the meadow. Its work as a tree is to sink down roots and grow. Little by little. It takes all the time it needs to become what it is meant to become and is not worried about getting anywhere fast. The birds sing their songs above its head, the sun shines in the grassy field where the tree sits. Shadows rise and fall across its face but the oak simply continues to do what oak trees do, lift its arms and breathe. Somehow, I think it’s easier for a tree to go slowly and live deliberately than it is for a person, but I’m practicing.
Two days ago when I had to go to the hospital for a follow-up X-ray of my fractured wrist, I was curious about whether the idea of slow living would extend to the world of medicine or not. The answer is yes. People at the hospital both here in Assisi where I got the X-ray, and at Perugia where the doctors read the X-ray were cordial and helpful, but it all took a long time–most the day, in fact. First there was paperwork and then waiting to do, and then more paperwork and more waiting. No one seemed in any particular hurry to get the X- ray copy done quickly. It would be ready whenever it would be ready, and it was assumed you could wait. This portion alone took an hour. Then we were sent to the cashier where we waited in line again, after which we then had to go to another city for a doctor to read the X-ray. The hospital facilities looked significantly better, however, than the hospitals in the south. The World Health Organization rates Italy’s health care as very good. Is it better to go to doctors who don’t seem pressed for time, who work at a slower pace? Maybe this would enable them to make more considered decisions. On the other hand, maybe they are less motivated to do a good job because their reputation is not as important in a system where the government pays you the same amount of money regardless of how many patients you see or the quality of your reputation. I don’t think I have enough information to make that judgment. I am using the health care my workplace in New Delhi has provided me in order to receive help, but I am also very thankful I could go to a hospital and get help here. So many people tout the advantages of slow living as a less stressful way of life, making us healthier in general. It leads me to wonder what people from the medical profession would have to say about “slow” medicine? What would their definition of it be and would they advocate for it?
Illness is a place, a world of its own. Its borders aren’t always clearly marked, but you know when you are there. The world of illness functions by different rules and works at a different pace. It’s a fuzzy sort of place where things appear slightly out of focus but you are too tired to care. You think more slowly, and odd activities that you normally wouldn’t do seem strangely attractive to you, like sleeping most the day, or drinking liters of water or juice. Strangers ask how you feel and offer to help you that normally would never occur to them. But that’s the point. You aren’t in your normal world. You are experiencing the world of illness, and though that world is rather limiting, the limitations are all for a greater good–to help you become whole again. Now that I’ve had the cast on my arm for more than a week, I can say that I have some idea of what it would be like to have an exoskeleton. There might be some advantages to an exoskeleton, such as not getting sunburned easily, and you can prop your arm on the edge of a table and pivot it up and down without pinching your skin, but I can report unequivocally that I still prefer the bones under the skin. Though illness has a way of distorting and changing reality, it also has a way of retuning reality so that you can see more of what really matters most to you.
Admittedly, there have been times in the last week when everything felt like it was moving all too slowly and I might have termed my experience as confining, not merely slow. I was stuck inside for lack of being able to breathe well when in my mind I wanted to go on long walks and explore the world. All year while living in Delhi I’ve been thinking of how narrow my life is–all lived within a radius of a few hundred yards for months on end. Sometimes I think of those people who sit in toll booths on the freeway, and wonder how they bear it. How do they feel day after day doing the same thing? How do they make meaning in their lives when so many hours a day are spent doing something routine and mindless? I’ve been longing for a change of scenery and for space, for new images, and here I am in Italy, a definite change, and yet, as a result of being ill, I’ve spent a lot of time sitting around in the same space. I could stay at home in California and enjoy the scenery of my yard there immensely. I did not have to come to Italy for that.
Or did I? I don’t know whether it’s a result of being ill and seeing things differently or if it is a result of enough trips to Italy now that I understand it on a different level, or if it because I have slowed my life down enough that I finally see what it is I really want, but what I see clearly now is that where I most want to be is at my home in California. Italy is beautiful, it’s true–the rolling hills of patchwork agriculture across the country, the ancient hilltop cities with their thousand year old churches made of stone. For several years now Michael and I have looked at property in Italy online, and have considered buying. But now I realize that I don’t want to live in a stone house with tiny windows off of a narrow stone street with no raw earth to walk on or ancient trees spreading their arms in my back yard. I need wild places. I need a garden. I need the redwoods. The ancient churches and cities of Italy have their stories to tell, and those stories have added to mine. Sitting here with the window open to the world in this little cottage in the hills where St. Francis walked and worked listening to the breeze rustle the trees and the birds sing, my sweet husband’s hand on my foot as I write, I know where I really want to be is at my home in Soquel.
This doesn’t mean I don’t ever want to travel any more. There are still places I want to see–Croatia, more of Greece, St. Petersburg, Prague, Morocco. And I also know it will take a few more years of living in the narrow situation of life in Delhi before I can afford to return home to CA, unless I can find some way to create an income there. But every life has its confinements, its narrow places that make it what it is. I’ve experienced a lot of ways of living over the past twenty one years of living and traveling in foreign countries but I want to live and make my home in Soquel where we are creating Gratitude Gardens. Look for further progress on the garden over the next few years.