“It’s not working,” Heather ground out, her face scrunched in pain. “What do I do?”
It had been a heck of a week. Heather had started out with one of her regularly-scheduled infusions for multiple sclerosis … followed by an allergic response that generated two trips to the emergency room over the next two days. The next day, an off-course driver swerved off the road and took out part of our backyard fence before ending his journey against the neighbor’s tree.
And now? Now Heather finally had the medicines she’d been waiting for to calm an MS flare. But after a few hours, they’d had as much effect as a peashooter on a boulder. Maybe less.
“Scotty?” she asked after the latest wave of pain and spasms, as we sat together on the couch. “Tell me what Middle-earth looks like.”
I knew what she was doing. We’d done this before. Call up a landscape. Talk through a memory. Mentally walk through somewhere, anywhere, that isn’t here.
And so we began. We talked out the Shire and the Old Forest. And then the tales of the cabin that her grandma’s family owned. And then the colors of fire, and how hard it could be to tell what had actually happened to start one. And then …
And then, an hour had passed.
The pain wasn’t gone. But it had had time to subside, a little. To lose the spotlight, leave the focus.
Somehow, with a shared weary smile, we’d made it again.
A familiar fight. Especially this year.
You know what I mean. 2020 has been a heck of a week, every week, with no immediate end in sight. It’s been tiring, exhausting, exasperating, and so many other synonyms that I’m surprised the thesaurus makers aren’t rolling in profits.
Each day, the path is a little different but the feeling is the same: fifty miles to walk with 400 pounds to carry on the hottest day of the year through a landscape dotted with thorn bushes and goatheads. And by the way, everything is on fire.
And each day, we have to find a way to make it. Not just through the health risks and the economic pain, though heaven knows those are challenging enough. But through the voice inside that says “I’m not sure I can make it this time.”
And if we stay where we are, as we are, maybe we can’t.
But we don’t have to.
Because even when walking outside is choked with smoke and danger, there’s still a walk inside to take.
We know it. We often reach for it without thinking. Stories, memories, experiences, thoughts. Real or created, beautiful or ridiculous. Streamed for millions or reflected on by one.
It’s one reason we look to each other in a time of crisis. Not just for assistance, but to share and talk. To be somewhere else for a while and heal in the words of a friend.
It’s not ignoring reality. It’s recovering from it. It’s remembering (as Samwise once did in The Lord of the Rings) that there are stars above the smoke that the Darkness can’t touch. It’s thinking beyond the moment to what makes us human and drawing strength from it.
It’d finding hope that what has changed can change again. That having lasted, we can last again.
Sure, some might call it escapist. JRR Tolkien himself had words for that. “Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home?” the writer asked. “Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?”
I wish you well in your own escapes. From the moment. From despair. From helplessness and exhaustion.
May we all walk through the landscapes of the heart and mind to a place of greater strength. Until someday this too is a story.
Together we will outlast the pain. And once again, we will see the dawn.