My husband and I sat across the table at a local diner recently, delighted to be out of the house together and not at the hospital or a doctor’s office. The day was gray and drizzly, but to us it seemed almost bright. Almost. We had travelled together through weeks of my husband’s hospitalization, pain, and weakness, but now here we were, sitting at a diner, smiling gently, almost shyly, at each other across the glossy formica-topped table.
It felt good. Very good! I asked my husband how he was feeling—pain-wise and strength-wise. He paused, smiled reflectively, and said, “I feel I’m about 70% here.”
“70% here!” I responded. “That also describes my CFS/ME so well, at least on the better days!” So there we sat, two 70 %-ers, enjoying a bowl of warm soup, enjoying each other’s company, and enjoying life, diminished as it has become.
Diminuendo. Yes, the music of our lives, and of the lives of many whom we hold in our hearts, plays out more quietly these days—“pp” and sometimes even “ppp.” But the music is still there. No rousing crescendos for the moment. The trumpets are muted; the violins as well. But brass and strings still gently play and haunt the byways of our minds and souls—sometimes with memories of earlier crescendos of musical joys; sometimes with the promise of “forte” music still to come, either in this life or the next.
Meanwhile, we live the quieter music of the moment, taking in all we can, releasing the rest to others whose lives know a greater fullness of health. Sometimes we do this gracefully and gratefully. Other times we beat the drums of frustration and, at times, even the drums of anger and despair, pray the laments of the psalmists, and hope with them for grace to hear God’s gentle melodies and once again accept the quieter “ppp’s” of our lives.
Kay Lynn Northcutt is a woman all too familiar with the quiet music of chronic illness. Ms. Northcutt used to teach homiletics, lead retreats, and provide pastoral leadership in a number of churches. But a serious illness, which struck quite suddenly, left her able to speak only with difficulty, and confined her for the most part to her home. However, while she can no longer easily speak, she still knows how to listen, knows how to be attuned to the diminished music of life with every part of her being. She writes: “My new vocation is that of loving extravagantly the shreds of life that are wondrously left to me.”*
What a powerful statement! To love extravagantly whatever of life is wondrously left to us. To stay attuned, attentive, to every melody, every grace note, every nuance of life that, all together, compose the symphonies of our lives. Truly a worthy vocation for life diminuendo.
For that matter, truly a worthy vocation for those whose healthy lives are lived at full crescendo!
*Kay Lynn Northcutt, “A holy, mundane essence,” The Christian Century, 3/7/12