the good of being sick

Yesterday I was pretty sure that I was seriously ill, maybe with cancer or kidney disease, or maybe even meningitis. I kept thinking of this woman I read about in the paper last year who had what she thought was a simple headache and she died days later of meningitis. I certainly felt like I could die.

My whole body ached, I had fever and chills, ringing in my ears, and a debilitating headache. All I could do was lie in a dark room with a cold wet cloth over my forehead and the rest of my body covered by mounds of blankets, waiting desperately for sleep to give me some relief. I also, to my horror and dismay, found a large lump in my hot and painful breast. Cancer for sure. Maybe cancer and meningitis.

Turns out I had mastitis. Unpleasant and inconvenient to say the least, but not normally life-threatening.

Well, I wouldn't wish that on anyone, least of all myself. Nonetheless a very nice thing can happen when one is sick -- the midwife who attended Noah's birth pointed this out to me once when we were talking about the almost obsessive desire to avoid all illness and pain in our lives -- and that is that someone gets to take care of someone, and someone gets to be cared for. To have someone lie down with you and hold you gently, to have them put their hand on your head, to have them sweetly assure you, "you'll be better tomorrow, I promise." How much someone loves you is evident in how they care for you when you are sick. And I don't think anyone, being given that, would not be thankful to be reminded.
Last night when we got home it was nearly dark and there was one bright star in the sky. When I went back outside to pick some honeysuckle, Noah came along and asked me to help him wish upon a star, so I said the words and he repeated after me:

Star light, star bright,
the first star I see tonight.
I wish I may, I wish I might
have the wish I wish tonight.

What did he wish for? His brother's broken game controller to be fixed. Sweet, sweet boy. For the past few days he'd been telling me that he was going to give a present to Jake: he was going to fix his controller. I hardly paid attention, since I knew that he couldn't do it. What I didn't know was that his plan was to wait for a star to wish on.

This morning first thing he raced upstairs to the playroom, then came back down looking miserable and bitter. I asked him what was wrong, and he said, barely holding back tears, that his wish hadn't come true. Oh no, I thought. I should have foreseen this. Of course he would take it literally. Of course he would really believe it. He's six years old.

He was inconsolable and wouldn't come to me. And what could I say that would make it better anyway? I sat next to him and told him the truth, that magic to alter material things doesn't exist, but that he could wish for something that we could help make come true.

The poem is really a prayer of intention to ourselves, not an incantation. Maybe, just maybe, the universe is listening too. I don't know. But tonight I want to remember to let him know this, then go outside to look for another star and make a wish together.