I miscarried in July 2000. That's where this story begins, 12 years ago, sitting in a restaurant on South Grand that doesn't exist anymore, with the pastor of my church at the time, Fr. Bill, eating a chicken salad sandwich. I remember it so clearly, the chicken salad.
Later, he and I wouldn't be friends anymore and I'd sit at his dining room table, on Parish Council almost out of spite, and then what luck to be at the table when Fr. Miguel walked in the room (I really, really like our pastor now, and I'm a different person than I was in July 2000 and I know, well, I know a lot of things. Anyway). But that hasn't happened yet. I've had my teaching year with Troy that wrung me out and evacuated my soul. I've gotten pregnant. And I've miscarried. And everything sucks. It's summer, which is a great idea in theory when you start teaching but in reality can be a lonely time if no one else is a teacher (or you don't have kids to ferry from camp to class to outing).
Fr. Bill was "on" that day. He didn't tell me anything stupid. He didn't read any poetry. For the most part, he let me sit in the silence, the air conditioning, the grief, all of it. I don't know what we said--I remember chicken salad. And I remember his saying, a quote from CS Lewis, that "pain is God's megaphone."
God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
He didn't extrapolate or give me a sermon on how that might apply. He just let it sit in the restaurant with us. Later he drove me home and I went into my empty house with that phrase caught in my head.
I am in no way saying that it was somehow God's will that I miscarry my first pregnancy. I truly believe that God suffers with us, not that God causes the suffering. But I sat with that phrase for a long time that summer, and then I remember that autumn, on retreat and going to confession with him and he sighed and told me I was so young. Anyway, I was still thinking about pain being God's megaphone.
I changed a lot of things in my life with that miscarriage. I cut back on a lot of what I did at school. I thought about consequences before I volunteered for new things. I reflected and prayed and thought and grew.
I've had smaller losses since then, scares, disappointments, aggravations, depressions, and so forth. God is there in all of that, but this past autumn, 11 years after Fr. Bill gave me that phrase to think about, I started experiencing chronic pain. Chronic facial pain. Pain that responded fine to pain killers, but to pain killers I didn't want to overdo. Pain that my dentist shrugged at and told me to see my GP. Pain my GP shrugged at and told me to see my dentist. Caught in limbo, I turned to anyone who could help me--my neighbor the endodontist did, and the chiropractor who had worked on Billy's head helped a lot. Gretchen.
And it happened, my tooth crumbled and set all this in motion, during a very stressful autumn for me. Not my most stressful, I mean, you've read about my first year teaching, but still quite overwhelming, and I kept trying to do everything I was supposed to do, while being in pain so distracting it made me slur my words.
Things got better in January, but then fell apart right before Easter again. I was in so much pain and I thought, ok, this is the rest of my life. The rest of my life my jaw is going to hurt and I won't be able to teach and everything is going to suck from here on out. I know people with debilitating conditions like fibromyalgia or rheumatoid arthritis and I wondered what the heck I was going to do.
Pain is God's megaphone. What the heck I was going to do was figure out what the heck I was doing. Why was I stretched so thin? Why didn't I have any time? Why couldn't I say no?
And I got some of my life together again. I started working out again regularly after a long hiatus. I took my liquid vitamin D and my probiotics and my thyroid medication. I saw the chiropractor/CST every other week. I moved the seat in my car and didn't sit down in front of the computer the way I used to. I built a garden. I cleaned the house. I thought about what to do next year. I breathed and relaxed and thought about what God might be saying to me through this pain.
I don't know what it is, but I've started saying some no. Just bits, just little ones, but it's good. I'm not tutoring Kadir anymore--his family took a month long trip to his grandmother's house, and then it's summer. Done. I'm not a catechist for our church anymore. Either my school is going to employ me to teach art next year (which starts looking more likely all the time), or I'm only volunteering in Daisy's classroom, not 4 classrooms. I'm going to my inlaws for Easter next year and not decorating at church. My girl scout troop is undergoing a transformation that will put me into the role of advisor more than leader. I haven't raised my hand high, haven't raised it at all, to start anything new.
And in a month, in those previous two paragraphs, my jaw stopped hurting. Not forever, but enough that I don't take ibuprofen more than once a week now. Enough that when it starts hurting, I can figure out how to make it stop, without bourbon or ibuprofen. Just breathing. Things were seriously out of hand and it was affecting the way I interacted with people, with life, with faith, with everything. I wasn't listening to the talking, to the whispering.
I'm listening again.