The Stomach Bug,
Minding The Suffering Gap
It’s Saturday and you have a lot you want to accomplish today, but you think you may have a stomach bug. The kind that confines you to your bed with a heating pad. You feel so bad you can’t even take a break from the heating pad to make the bed. It’s now past noon. You consider that if you make the bed, it’ll be a mind-over-matter thing and you’ll feel better. Then you’ll soon be up and at ‘em.
Your stomach hurts too much to make the bed yourself, so your sweet, handsome husband makes it for you. Now you’re back down on the tidied up bed and you wrap yourself again in the heating pad. You’re not up and at ‘em. You have no interest in working on your laptop or even turning on the TV or reading, all you can do is intermittently reach for the iPhone you’ve been spooning and start scrolling social media. Again.
This makes you feel worse.
You feel sorry for yourself. And it’s not even really about the tummy trouble. You feel guilty that you’re not feeling grateful. You’re only seeing what you lack. What’s missing. What others have. You hate the way jealousy feels. It doesn’t make sense.
You remind yourself what your hero Anne Lamott says about comparison: “Never compare your insides to everyone else’s outsides.” This helps a little.
As you continue scrolling, you come across a video ad that you’d been interested in and were maybe vaguely familiar with but hadn’t listened to because it’s twenty minutes long, but now you decide that because you are confined to this bed and this heating pad and this social media torture, you have all the time in the world. So you click on the ad bearing the face of a handsome, smiling man. The heading is “The Spring” and the ad is for Charity Water. You begin to watch and it does seem more familiar, but because you’re always so “busy” you’d only dipped your toe in. You watch the video of a flat-out redeemed life and you’re gobsmacked. You see his own life transformation and the impact he’s made (and making) in the lives of countless others providing something as basic as clean water to people who’d been drinking literal muck across the world.
You are reminded again what your hero Anne Lamott said about comparison and you see the clear, cool bubble water in your glass on the nightstand.
You are grateful. You see how much is not missing.
The story is so inspirational you consider sharing it on Facebook. That is, until you make the mistake of reading some of the comments by others—the bickering over why this man helps people in Uganda rather than Flint, Michigan. The angry and hateful comments make your stomach cramp even more, so you put your phone down and you doze disillusioned by the inhumanity about the humanity.
When you wake up, you decide you have to get out of this room because it’s been all day and now it’s just ridiculous. So you move the party downstairs. Your iPhone is in one hand and the other is holding the heated mini-blanky snuggled to your tummy as you pad downstairs. You can hear the end of the cord dragging on the carpet, following behind you like your little loyal puppy dog.
You turn on Netflix on the big screen and scroll for far too long. Then you spot a short-ish documentary that may be do-able. You watch the trailer and in the first few seconds you know you must watch it. You’re fully aware it might be a downer but your hunch is that it is the opposite.
You watch “End Game” and you bawl off and on the entire 40-minutes. You play back a certain part and pump up the volume so that you can record it with your iPhone with the intent of transcribing it later. Dr. BJ Miller is speaking. He’s devastatingly handsome. And he’s missing his legs below his knees and his left arm below his elbow. He says:
“Two people can have very much the same circumstances, the same disease perhaps… and one person is sort of taking it in stride and the other person just can’t accommodate the illness, can’t accommodate the diagnosis. I’ll say in my own experience, it took me several years before I stopped comparing my new body to the old body, but when I did stop comparing… and when this became the whole me, not me missing stuff, I stopped suffering. My identity had accommodated the facts of my life. So I like to think about suffering as a gap, like a wedge. The gap between the world you want, and the world you’ve got.”
You remember the words, “mind the gap” and the photo you’d taken of the famous phrase painted on the edge of the platform in the London Underground. You knew it had metaphorical meaning then, but you hadn’t thought of this one until you hear Dr. Miller: Accommodation of the facts—acceptance of them—awareness or minding the unchangeable gap was everything for him.
You’re not sure how all of this comparison talk fits together but you’re confidant you’re going to work it out because you’re an accomplished over-thinker with far too much time on your hands today, what else are you going to do? You do know that denial is not only pointless, but self-sabotage, and comparison is not only debilitating but toxic. Sometimes gratitude for your clean bubbly water quenches your “thirst.” Minding the gap means you don’t deny the gap—but you don’t let your pain become endless suffering—you don’t fall in because of what’s missing.
So you and I both can get up and at ‘em.
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.–Melody Beattie