A few years ago, I took my kids to the Lamberton Conservatory on a Saturday afternoon in winter. It was cold and I was sick of being housebound. So, I grabbed my camera and the three of us headed to the conservatory to see some greenery and hopefully beat away some of the winter blahs. The conservatory is filled with tropical plants and lush greens in one room, and cacti and desert plants in another. The walls and ceilings are made of glass. Tiny quails scurry across the floor, and turtles and fish swim in the pond.
Lily was four and Josh was one, still small enough, both of them, to need hand holding and the occasional scooping up into my arms. We walked through the conservatory, making our observations and me snapping photos. Halfway through, I bent down to pick up Josh and felt something shift in my back. I gasped in pain, put him down, and told them both quietly, “We need to leave now. I just hurt myself.”
Adam was working that day, so I was on my own, fearful of getting the kids out to the car and driving them home. I was grateful that both kids could climb into their car seats and all I had to do was buckle them in. I plopped down in the driver’s seat and immediately felt better. But I drive a stick and every time I lifted my leg to shift, a tiny spike of pain shot through my back.
No matter. We made it home. I flipped on the TV for the kids and whispered a prayer of thanks that it was almost dinnertime and the day would be coming to a close soon. I called my husband and he said to lie on the floor with my legs up, so that’s just what I did.
Flash-forward to today, and I’m lying on the floor again, legs in the air, back in massive pain. Only this time, instead of picking up my child, I was standing on a chair in the kitchen trying to take a photo of some wildflowers I stole from the abandoned house down the street as they lay in the light on the counter. I bent over to fuss with the flowers, straightened up, and knew I was in trouble. Worse was that I was about to leave to pick Lily up after a sleepover last night. And, again, Adam was at work.
Thankfully, my friend was able to bring her home, so I could lie on the floor with Josh, reading him book after book, then listening to him play Yahtzee while I read a chapter out of Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Option B. Sandberg’s option B was living without her husband after his unexpected death; my option B was lying on the floor and giving up my plans of stopping at Trader Joe’s and going to yoga at the Y later. Not exactly apples to apples, but it gave me pause.
Just two weeks ago, I pulled my quad muscle in a parent-child relay race at Lily’s school and spent a week resting. I didn’t realize resting was so hard. I’m used to moving around a lot and exercising hard a few times a week. Taking a break for a few days was hard on me. Having to rely on others for help was challenging. I knew rest would help me heal, and I was grateful for to give my body what it needed, but I wasn’t happy to take a break. Rest was more mentally demanding than I expected.
My quad healed, but now I’m lying on the floor with back pain.
Maybe there’s something to this. Or maybe I’m looking too deeply. Part of me thinks, Maybe I need to be humbled. Maybe something’s wrong and I’m doing too much, and this is God’s way of showing me I need to slow down and rely more on Him. But another part of me shrugs that off because right now I don’t want to deal with God.
Either way, I’m stuck here on the floor.
When this happened a few years ago, I didn’t read too deeply into it. It just happened, like any freak thing can happen. The next day, with my back still in serious pain, Adam and I drove to his visit his grandfather for the last time before he passed away. My in-laws kept the kids so we could have our visit, and I remember feeling flushed with gratitude despite the pain I was in.
We sat in the living room, making awkward small talk. Someone asked me about my back, and I felt funny talking about it. Should you talk about something so commonplace as a pulled back when someone in the room is dying? What’s the protocol for that? In Option B, Sandberg says we should talk about the commonplace and also the elephant in the room – in this case, the impending death. But what to say? I didn’t know.
We gave our hugs and said goodbye. All of it was strange, like walking through water, slow and deliberate. We drove the two hours home and I laid down to rest, thankful for the day and one last goodbye.
Gratitude, it seems, is part of this, a place of rest in the midst of pain. Perhaps (and I’m thinking deeply again), gratitude is tied to humility. We get brought down low and humbled, then fill with gratitude about what we have, things we might overlook if we were healthy or proud. When we’re hurting or low, we have our pain and we have whatever good we can find. We are thankful for what tends to itself, for helping hands, for time and space to heal. Whatever it is, we might not see it except by lying on the floor with our feet up on a chair.