A few months ago, one of my healthy friends suddenly became quite sick with an as-yet-undiagnosed illness.
I wanted to tell her why it was so crucial that she rest. I wanted to explain that her body was under attack, and that nothing was more important than helping it to win the fight. But I didn’t have the words.
This poem spilled out of that place.
Tough, sturdy back
Broad, muscular chest
Long, powerful legs
The horse is strong
But wolves are circling
Piercing, yellow eyes
Sharp, pointed teeth
Thick, savage jaws
The pack moves in
And the battle begins
A blur of fur and flowing mane
A flurry of snapping teeth
And thudding hooves
The horse spins and bucks
Stamps and bites and kicks
Working desperately hard
To keep the wolves at bay
You wade through the mess
To reach your horse’s side
And her large, soulful eyes
Fill with relief at the sight of you
But you are oblivious to the battle
The blood dripping from her coat
The foamy sweat on her heaving sides
The wolves intent on her destruction
All apparently invisible to you
You scold her for not keeping up
You pick up the fallen bags
And pile them back on top of her
Tying them down tightly
You yank her along behind you
The wolves continue to tear at her
But she can no longer fight them off
Loaded down as she is
Piece by piece, they rip her apart
Until finally, gasping for breath
Unable to take another step
She falls to the ground
But she doesn’t fall alone
You collapse too
The wolves slink away
But the damage is done
You realise, too late
You were so focused on the bags
You forgot to look after your body
And you can’t live without a body
* * *
Over the last few months, my friend’s health has deteriorated to the point that she can no longer attend school to finish her final year. If she’s not a home resting or sleeping, she’s at the doctor’s office, having test after test done to try and pinpoint what is going on.
But instead of supporting her, her teachers and friends constantly push her to return to school. As though she should just brush aside the fact that she can’t walk most days; ignore the tears of pain streaming down her face; push past the exhaustion that saps her strength…because SCHOOL, you guys! It’s IMPOSSIBLE to succeed in life without school!
Well, I’m a teacher. And I have a message for my friend.
(at least for now)
When we’re sick, we often expect our bodies to keep doing all of our usual things (e.g. work, school) while simultaneously fighting off the illness rampaging through it. That’s not too much of an ask if you have a bit of a cold, or a headache. But when you’re seriously ill, it’s time to adjust, reschedule, or maybe even (gasp!) miss out on some things. Because one body is all that you get. So when the wolves come for it, resist the temptation to just drag yourself through life. Instead, make it a priority to lighten the load that you usually ask your body to carry; rest, and do your best to help it.
Even then, there’s no guarantee that you’ll win. But at least you’ve given yourself a fighting chance.