Ten years ago, the church women’s group I went to studied a book called 12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me). The premise is that all those dozens of daily explosions of irritation at people in the grocery story line, drivers on the highway, etc. make you like the pharisees: you are putting yourself above those other people because you’d never do what they’re doing, except of course, when you do, except of course when you do it you have perfectly legitimate reasons for doing it. It was initially striking and convicting. By the end of the book the message was diluted, because it seemed like everything you thought made you a pharisee. Still, it has stuck with me all these years.
I had a not-so-recovering pharisee moment last week and I feel like I’m paying for it now.
Last Friday, I was pulling into a parking lot to do a little grocery shopping. I had to wait what seemed like forever for two women to move diagonally and painstakingly slowly across the aisle and through the spot I was aiming for. One woman was older, but she was speedy compared to the younger one, who hobbled and shuffled like a woman in her 90s. There was nothing visibly “wrong” with her and she was laughing at the older woman ahead of her. I am not proud of it, but I said unkind things about that woman in my head. I was smug about my relative physical fitness and vigor. Classic pharisee.
Classic enough that I recognized it immediately and changed my mental script. I reminded myself that she might be recovering from an injury, or knee surgery, or have a chronic illness, so that the speed and manner in which she walked may be an enormous victory for her. I tried to be glad for her. Still, it gave me a vague sense of, “I’m going to pay for that original attitude by being forced into something similar.”
And I was.
At 3:30 that morning, I awoke with pain every time I took a breath and terrible pain in my neck and shoulders. I thought it might be heartburn or asthma, so I took some Tums, some Advil, heated up my neck roll and deep breathed myself to sleep. Same thing at 5:30. Woke up for good at 8:30, and after the pain increased every time I moved, and I was breathing more and more shallowly to avoid the pain, I woke my husband up and had him take me to the E.R. They plopped me in a wheelchair, rushed me to a room, two people slapped a dozen 3M stickers on me and hooked me up to an EKG machine and who knows what else.
There is no place else in this piece to also mention the relatively minor indignity of having to ask my young male nurse to escort me to the bathroom so I could change my periodical supplies. Yes, while having this emergency, I had to deal with that.
Thank the Lord, it was not a heart attack or a blood clot. It was pleurisy, inflammation of the lining of the lungs. Scary and painful, but not life-threatening.
They sent me home and told me to rest and take Advil-type stuff. I did. Usually, when I’m sick, I hate being hovered over and cared for, but I was a good patient on Saturday. I stayed mostly in bed with my laptop and a bunch of books, sending chat messages to my husband when I wanted something. Sunday, I was okay. If it had been any other Sunday, I would’ve stayed home from church, but it was our 2nd last Sunday there, and my last chance to say an official good-bye to our pastor, so I went. Then I rested and went to an evening event, where I lasted an hour — looking totally normal, but feeling tapped-out.
Monday, more activity, but moving slowly and looking normal. Tuesday, more activity yet. I even went on the treadmill at the gym: a totally healthy-looking woman going at half her normal effort level and quitting after only 20 minutes. Even that was too much. I had a lovely and fun day, but I pushed myself too hard, and today I’m paying for it with a little pain back in the lungs.
Have you caught the theme: I look totally normal, especially with the full armor of make-up on, but I move like a sick person. The woman in the parking lot has her revenge.
There are people who would tell me that God sent me pleurisy as a punishment (after all, it’s unusual for a perfectly healthy person with no cold or bronchitis or pneumonia to up and get pleurisy), but I prefer to think of God using this event to teach me to be kinder in my thoughts, to engage the fabulous imagination he’s given me to spin narratives for people I see who might initially annoy or puzzle me, to give people the same benefit of the doubt I give myself. To get off my f^@&ing high horse, because I really have not earned the right to be there. To be more humble.