Three days after my coworker reported suffering from a “weird cold,” I sat minimally elevated in my bed, staring down a positive Covid test. For three days after that, I remained bedridden, my slightly elevated state pushed horizontal by symptoms such as fever, chills, fatigue, a cough, nasal congestion, body aches, and more. All the while, it heavily rained outside, inducing the feeling that both my apartment and my illness constructed a cocoon. When, shakily, I emerged following my five-day quarantine, it was with the wide and bewildered eyes of a newborn.
Ever since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, I have hypothesized all sorts of stances toward illness. Initially, I wrote about illness as a function of unprocessed emotion, meaning that the more we faced emotional realities and thereby “raised our vibration,” the less we would get sick. Later on, and beginning to struggle with more innocuous illnesses myself, I theorized illness as a sort of karmic threshold, a way of ushering in more compassion for the less fortunate and a greater push for equity. In this latter vision, I equated illness with the arrival of astrology’s Aquarian age.
Considering that I did ultimately get Covid despite my energetic and emotional “work,” and that I likely will get it again regardless of the age in which this occurs, my convalescence eradicated many of my certainties about illness writ large, my articulate and inarticulate philosophies. At this point, what feels truest to me is what my stepdad said by way of characterizing my experience: that severe illness is a “preview of death,” a precursor of a time in which our world shrinks to nothing. Throughout my stint recuperating in my apartment, I felt little awareness of or concern over what was happening outside, even though my positive test coincided with the dissolution of Roe versus Wade and the war in Ukraine dominated the news.
Rather than focusing on either energetic buffers toward illness, or karmic indebtedness as a reason therefore, my philosophy around illness now is coming to be so mundane as to cease to warrant expression: essentially, I believe that precautions can be taken to lessen the incidence of illness, but that ultimately illness is part and parcel of healing and that it gradually comes to crowd out our experience of health. That is, for every moment we experience ourselves as healthy there will be an accompanying moment of illness–just as sleep interpolates and prepares us for the vigor of successive days. In the long run, illness and weakness will become the more frequent substrate of our experience, until the point at which vigor gives way entirely to decay–just as in life’s end, we either sleep indefinitely or pass on to another dream.
Too, it seems to me that illness can be a beautiful reminder of the fact that we were alive to begin with, a distillation of the sensations that epitomize embodiment. Walking outside of my apartment after friends and family members had brought me food for the preceding five days, I was struck anew by the glory of the sunlight, the way it speckled the coating of dew that lingered from the uncharacteristic bout of rain. The birds’ calls rang as new to me, and it felt dreamlike to return to a public space like a mall or restaurant, to again sit in human community. Similarly, every racking cough during my Covid experience reminded me of the capacity of my lungs; every blow of my nose the depth of my nasal passages; my disoriented, vague consciousness of the miracle that for so long my thoughts had whistled clear. Even though I suffered throughout this experience, that suffering developed in me a new intimacy with and appreciation for the glistening mist of life.
For a long time, I have wished for some sort of invulnerability from human frailty, a manner through which I can position myself as eternally strong and healthy. In some sense, this wish boils down to ego; it is the desire to be seen in the ways I express above, and to see myself in those ways, forestalling the reality of death. All stories arise from this desire, characterizing illness as something other than “normal” in life, even as something other than beautiful. In the end, there is no health without illness–just as there is no awareness of the gift of embodiment, nor of the loving communities who support us when we are sick. I am grateful to have stepped forth from my Covid cocoon with this new awareness, and I hope to preserve its gifts as other illnesses confront both me and others, meeting them with courage, humility, patience, and a thankful smile.