The time has come to put our stones down.
For hands clutching stones can’t freely drum.
And hearts fisting the past can’t fully sing. ~Mark Nepo
I laid my cheek against the tile, looking for a spot to cool my fevered brow. Curled into a fetal position on the bathroom floor, I awaited death or the next round of vicious cramps that foretold another evacuation. This was the third day of the most violent vomiting and diarrhea my poor body had ever endured. I was dehydrated, delirious. The human body is naturally composed of about 60% water. I had lost about 5 pounds of water, so what percentage was I? I tried to do the math, failed miserably. Just when I had convinced myself there were no water molecules left, my body located a few and violently expelled them into the toilet or sweated them through my pajamas.
When it wasn’t coming out of one end or the other, I oscillated between hallucinations and weird fever dreams, all shadows and unseen faces. David wanted to take me to the ER but I refused.
You see, I don’t believe that I had a stomach virus. My husband, who works as an in-patient physical therapist, is constantly bringing home bacteria and viruses on his scrubs. At my house, laundry day is always a game of viral Russian Roulette. The rational, logical explanation is that I had a severe case of gastroenteritis. But I don’t think it was a stomach bug.
I think it was grief.
I know this sounds crazy, but there you have it. I think my body was evacuating suffering. It was my time in the belly of the beast, the heroine brought low.
In memoirs of women stepping into their power, there’s often a bathroom floor moment. The trope started with Liz Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and has been used in countless tales since. We’ve been promised that it is in our darkest night that we find salvation. All we need do is ask. We’ve literally been brought to our knees, so why not pray? God told Liz to go back to bed, a reminder to be patient with her animal form.
And so I prayed. I waited to hear the line that would change my life forever. I imagined the bestselling book I would write about tonight. I imagined who might play me in the movie version. I waited, hoping the next line was well-written. Something pithy, short enough to fit easily on a coffee mug. And then. Finally…
I vomited at the exact same moment a watery stool shot from my backside. Not exactly the climactic moment I was hoping for.
That episode proved to be the last. I fell back to sleep. When I awoke, my fever had broken. I was sore but hungry. I wanted a cup of coffee, the most hopeful sign yet that I had survived.
I was myself for the first time in a long time, some spell of sadness broken. I did get an IV bag of fluids, but the healing was as spiritual as it was physical. I had been carved out, scooped hollow. But in a good way, not in a shaky, weepy way.
And in that emptiness, grace poured in. Because, as poet Mark Nepo reminds us, a tight fist can’t hold anything new. The fisted heart must be hollowed out, a belly full of pain unburdened. Consider how closely linked the words hollow and hallow. Hole and holy. In the letting go, space is created for the next. I had been scoured clean, tabula rasa.
There has been more laughing of late. More delight and less despair. More gratitude and less grumbling. More Erinness. For the first time since early summer, words spilled easily. I wrote all afternoon, stopping occasionally to thank the muse for her return.
In the spirit of a clean slate, this will be my last column for The Winchester Sun. I am not done with writing, but my work shall appear in other places. Stay tuned and thanks for reading as long as you have.
I’m not done with suffering either. Grief doesn’t wear a watch; it comes and goes at whim. But for now, I’ll happily set my stones down.
Maybe God had been in my bathroom all along.