That thing with feathers

I’ve been in pain for a while now. I spend a lot of time on the couch. Through the window I see birds. I have a feeder, a bird bath. They like the brambles.

Emily Dickinson famously wrote, “hope is the thing with feathers.” I hate that poem. Hope is dangerous. If you have too much you end up dashed on the rocks. It carries you too high. Icarus knew. You can’t ask him, but his lesson stands. He, too, was all about feathers. Daedalus, now there was a man that had it in hand. He tried to harness those feathers. Rein in the hope. He knew the danger.

My aversion to hope stems from a decade of chronic pain. Pain so crippling I have lost entire swathes of time. I can’t remember them. Months gone. Days turned into weeks where I couldn’t get out of bed. I raised a son during this time. I had a lot of help. My husband did the heavy lifting. My parents were involved. I relied on the kindness of strangers. I was grateful until it grated. Until I became raw with the thankfulness required.

I was judged, and found wanting. I lacked the ability to care. I lost jobs. Friendships faded. I let it all go. I let myself go.

I let go of myself.

Birds are funny creatures to watch. They scratch, peck, flitter and flurry. They are in constant activity. Screeching and squawking, tweeting and squeaking. They have epic fluttery battles over territory and mates. They are life sped up, the VHS on fast forward, double timing it to the inevitable anticlimax.

Chronic pain isn’t like that. Instead chronic pain time is sluggish.  Time slows to that clichéd crawl. The second hand is replaced by the hour. The pain is fiery, stabbing, broken glass piercing my eye. A throbbing net of hot, electric barbed wire contracting around the right side of my head. The time, though, is something else. It is the first day, of the last week, of high school. Summer right outside the window. The chemistry teacher droning on and on in that monotone baritone you’ve been listening to all year. Every second hand tic of the clock a lazy harbinger of yet more pain.

Time like this is cruel. It holds no space for feathery, agitated hope. What chronic pain time has space for is determination, courage and self-compassion. Hope is too fragile, too flighty a thing to survive the load for long. I need to rely on sturdy stuff.

Still, I enjoy watching those birds.

-M

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