Every superhero movie these days involves a mind-blowing escalation of the final battle. You know. The Avengers are fighting creepy mechanical creatures that fly around knocking New York City to pieces. You think it can’t get any worse, and then it does: there’s a lull in the action, a low-pitched roar, and my kids start singing, “The FISH thing! The FISH thing! The GIant GIant FISH thing!”
Sometimes life feels just like that.
Every two or three years, in the early fall we have an epic, extended Battle of the Ick. (In case you haven’t intuited it? We’re in one.) This year it got an early start with a dry, hacking cough around the 20th of August. I remember that because I saw my 90+ year old grandmother on the 26th and I was afraid to kiss her because I thought I was probably incubating the boys’ bug.
A month later, we’re all still coughing. And before anyone invokes the almighty doctor, we’ve been to urgent care twice and the regular doctor once, each for a different person. So far in the month of September, we have spent $200 on copays.
It’s not a bad illness, but it wears on you after a while. Nicholas is dramatic by nature, but when he gets sick, he’s even dramatic in his sleep. His coughing can keep the entire house awake, because he sounds like he’s choking. Mama Kate hasn’t been sleeping much the last month, and most of the time it’s not because of a full brain. It’s because I’m getting up and rolling over sixty-pound kids, smearing them with Vix, re-dosing them with Triaminic or Dimetapp, and the like.
In the past three days, I finally feel like we finally started getting a handle on it.
But now we’re staring down the barrel of one of Those Weeks: upcoming deadlines; catching up from a weekend trip to Illinois that set me back by five days; the need to grocery shop on a Monday because a bunch of the weekly staples are flat out gone; the lawn that is threatening to turn into a set for the Jungle Book (see: out of town over the weekend); an NFP class to teach; a massage for which I’ve been waiting for over a month, to fix the burning tendons in my feet; a flute lesson; a DS group plotting session…
And that’s just Monday!
And on the eve of That Week, we came upstairs at bedtime to discover…well, I’ll spare you the details.
So here’s the thing: there’s this little set of instructions for Christian living called the works of mercy. And one of them is “visit the sick.”
But in the past eleven years I’ve had ample opportunity to beat my head against the fact that nobody wants to visit the sick, because nobody wants to GET sick. In fact, as a mother I’ve often felt that the time I most need support is the time the support completely evaporates.
It got me to thinking that we take these works of mercy too literally. The thing is, when you have a sick kid, the rest of your life doesn’t stop. The deadlines are still there, the family still needs to eat, the lawn still has to be cut, and the other kids still have to do their homework. Some things can be rescheduled. Many can’t.
I realized this weekend that we need to rethink the meaning of “visit the sick”. There are ways to help a family overwhelmed by illness—even the petty kind that lasts a month and doesn’t threaten anyone’s life–without exposing yourself to the same illness. Mow their lawn. Rake their leaves. Bring the un-sick family members a meal, or just pick up a handful of groceries and drop them off. Help transport the un-sick kids. Supervise them outside, where carriers will be less likely to share their germs, so they don’t have to tag along while parents drive the sick kid all over creation to see doctors who have oh-so-thoughtfully decided to move their practice to the OPPOSITE END OF TOWN.
Do the things the parents can’t do, because they’re too darned busy taking care of the stuff that can’t be put off.
And when it’s all over at last, help them catch up with everything they had to let slide in the interim.
We’ve got to stop putting mercy in a box. Mercy wants out. Mercy means finding a way.
Note: this is not a thinly-disguised plea for help. God willing by the time this posts, I’ll have the lawn mostly mowed. I’m just realizing we’ve got to quit thinking two-dimensionally and give mercy a place in real life.