I knew there was no cure for my paralysis. Nor was there any hope for my baldness. But this was an infectious-disease doctor on the other end of the line, and he was calling me about my Urinary Tract Infection. We had always cured them in the past, and even though this one seemed much more difficult than the others, I assumed we would resolve this one too.
So I was pretty shaken when he said: “I don’t think we can cure this one, Dan.”
Urinary tract infections are an inevitable side effect of spinal cord injury because the bladder is paralyzed. Ordinarily, I get a few a year, and after a couple of weeks of antibiotics, I’m OK.
But this one has lasted a full year. I even told friends I was going to take my infection out to dinner to celebrate our first anniversary! That moment on the phone, with tears in my eyes, that joke didn’t seem so funny.
After some research, I found out this is not an imminent death sentence. It does mean I will have to take these antibiotics for the rest of my life or else I could get quite ill. And of course long-term use of antibiotics is rarely good news for one’s body.
Nevertheless, that phone call represented a new chapter in my life to me. One I was in no rush to begin.
I do believe in coincidences. And I had a quite fortunate one when my friend Amy came over to visit just two days before that phone call. At one point, she asked if I believed in heaven. Without giving it any thought, I said: “Yes. You’re in it right now.”
I saw the dazed and confused look on her face that I often see when I make proclamations, so I went on: “What were the chances of that sperm fertilizing that egg and producing your life? And what were the chances that you would have lived all the years you have lived in relative good health? And what were the odds that you would have so many people in your life that you love and who care about you? And what were the possibilities that you could look outside of almost any window and see the beauty of nature? Heaven? You bet.”
Of course, it’s not the perfect one we read about in mythology or that many believe in. There is great pain and suffering and loss in this particular heaven. But deep inside, most know it’s precious. That is why we clutch this life so tightly. That’s why we have so much anxiety, even anger, when something threatens us or our loved ones.
I had the good fortune to visit the Grand Canyon last month. I’m not a good enough writer to describe the magnificent vistas. Suffice to say that when most people see it for the first time, they are moved to tears. Not from sadness. But from awe.
At the end of the day, several hundred people gathered to watch the sun dip slowly behind the canyon. Everyone sat in silence as nature did what it does. And in the moment the sun closed the day, everyone applauded. More awe.
And then I thought: But the sun sets every day, everywhere. And it is no less magnificent wherever it sets. The only difference is the attitude we all had as we watched.
In the Grand Canyon, we felt awe. At home, we don’t even notice. Heaven? Absolutely. It just takes some careful noticing to realize we are there.
I made a joke about taking my urinary tract infection out for an anniversary dinner even though I’ve been trying to kill it all year. With my most recent news, I am hoping we have many more anniversary dinners together.
What changed as a result of the phone call? The call got me thinking more about sunsets. It seems that if we spend the day aware of the gifts of our lives, we are much more likely to notice the beauty of the sunset.
“InsideOut” appears every other week. Clinical psychologist and family therapist Dan Gottlieb can also be heard Mondays at noon on WHYY-FM (90.9).
By Dan Gottlieb