I borrowed the title of this article from Reverend Mary Earle’s book Beginning Again (Benedictine Wisdom for Living with Illness). As we move into a New Year, I thought the title was appropriate. Most of us grew up with the tradition of making New Year’s resolutions. Most of us discovered that we could not carry through with those directives to ourselves. This is yet another reason for the title of this article. God gives us so many opportunities to begin again. I do hope that as we await the dawning of the New Year, we see it as a moment in history to begin again with newfound energy, with new perspectives, and with a deeper appreciation and awareness of the power of God within us. I await the dawning of the New Year with new eyesight, and I give thanks to God for the insurmountable amount of grace received during 2021.
Mary Earle writes, “There is a child in each of us waiting to be born again. It is to those looking for life that the figure of the Christ, a child, beckons. Christmas is not for children. It is for those who refuse to give up and grow old, for those to whom life comes newly and with purpose each and every day, for those who can let yesterday go so that life can be full of new possibility always, for those who are agitated with newness whatever their age. Life is for the living, for those in whom Christmas is a feast without finish, a celebration of the constancy of change, a call to begin once more the journey to human joy and holy meaning.” These words are powerful for me personally through my experience this past year.
On January 1, 2021, I returned to the monastery from spending a few days in the country with friends. I returned with a spirit of joy. I was really anticipating getting back home so I could go for a ride on my brand new bicycle that the Sisters had given me as a Christmas gift. I remembered growing up and riding my bicycle for long distances. I recalled breathing in the fresh air and experiencing the beauty of nature as I rode through the countryside. I got on my new bicycle and rode up to the front of the monastery. I straddled my bike as I came to a stop and got off the bike only to turn around to steady the bike because there was a hose lying across the pavement. As I did this, I lost my balance and the bike slanted toward me, and I fell with the bike on top of me. I fell spread eagle and crushed my right wrist. It was so bad that I had surgery that very same day. I remember thinking, “What a way to start the New Year! Of course, I am right-handed so that made it doubly difficult. I remember thinking that it would be difficult, but that so many people face much more difficult situations, so I prayed for those suffering much worse as I continued to heal with the help of physical therapy and a good doctor. It took about six weeks to walk through that whole ordeal. Little did I know that that was the just the beginning of what would prove to be a difficult year.
By the middle of February, I was back to normal activities. All of this could have been so much worse. I expressed my gratitude to God for bringing me back to full health. Then early in March I experienced a hemorrhagic stroke followed by another stroke to my left side. I had had a stroke back in 1999 so having another stroke did not surprise me because the doctors told me the possibility existed that I might have another one. What did surprise me was where this stroke would take me! It was complicated by a UTI that I got while trying to recuperate from the stroke. God is good in that I have very little memory of exactly what happened as the time unfolded. I had to rely on family and friends to fill in the blanks of what I could not remember. I found myself in rehab for about eight months. People later told me that I had come very close to death. At one point, my family was called to come see me because it looked like I might not make it. My friends called a priest friend of mine to come and anoint me because they also felt that I was near the end. I do not recall any of this, but I know that I walked through this time with a constant awareness of the presence of God and a knowing that all would be well.
During those months, I had ample opportunity to reflect on illness, recovery, and blessings. I reread Mary Earle’s books on Living with Illness and Marvelously Made. I highly recommend reading these books if you are suffering with chronic illness or know of someone dear to you that suffers with chronic illness. Mary’s books reflect her own journey with illness and are written within the frameworks of St. Benedict’s Rule. They have been a real source of comfort for me.
My blessings began immediately with a barrage of get well wishes from family, friends, and acquaintances. I was touched deeply by the words expressed on the hundreds of cards I received. I was doubly blessed when my friends began to visit me even though they had to jump through hoops because of Covid restrictions. The staff commented on the amount of visitors I had saying they had never seen so many people come to visit one person. The longer I stayed, the more obvious all this became. Each visitor reflected God’s healing touch and each visit was a graced moment in time.
I also met some really precious people in rehab and realized that their family was not present to them for long periods of time. My heart went out to them, and my prayers included their intentions daily. I was very aware of God’s presence through each person that I spent time with. As I walked this time, I discovered what Thomas Merton meant when he wrote, “God is mercy within mercy within mercy.”
“Christmas is about finding life where we did not expect life to be.” I was given opportunity after opportunity to discover new life. I write today almost completely healed with the exception of a few more physical therapy appointments. I write with a grateful heart for the many blessings received through this whole ordeal. I look forward to this New Year and God’s blessing on it.
I would like to close this article with a prayer from Thomas Merton that Mary Earle uses. I find a great deal of comfort in his words. I wish each of you a graced filled New Year.
No Idea Where I Am Going
O Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going,
I do not see the road ahead of me,
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
And the fact that I think
I am following Your will
Does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe
That the desire to please You
Does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire
In all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything
Apart from that desire to please You.
And I know that if I do this
You will lead me by the right road,
Though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust You always
though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear,
for You are ever with me,
and You will never leave me
to make my journey alone. Amen.