Lyme Disease Research Database Independent reporting on all aspects of Lyme Disease

Paying it forward = Stress relief

I was stuck. Attempting to turn left into a traffic jam, confronted with cars backed up as far as I could see. Several vehicles had fresh-cut Christmas trees roped to the roof like hostages. The setting sun was blinding all the westbound drivers. I started to settle in for what looked like a long wait for a break.

Suddenly, a driver stopped to wave me in. Hallelujah! I couldn’t believe it. I watched as everybody in the long line of cars behind her was forced to stop and wait while I made my turn. With a wave and a smile and a tap on the brakes, she had flooded my heart with hope and love for my fellow humans. If she hadn’t voluntarily stopped like that, I might still be sitting there.

An hour later, stuck in a checkout line held up by a woman buying 4,000 rolls of ribbon, I overheard the couple behind me. They were griping quietly at each other. I encouraged them to go ahead of me, and they suddenly smiled and said thanks, both wishing me a Merry Christmas. It felt so nice to pay back the generosity that had been extended to me that I actually wished there were more shoppers standing in line to wave ahead.

In times of stress, whether from traffic, sickness, or other events, it seems we have a choice. We can’t control the events themselves, but we can choose how we react. The glee and gratitude I felt for that driver infected my mood instantaneously. In every crowded lane and line for hours afterward, I enjoyed interacting with clerks and shoppers and felt genuinely uplifted with every sincere smile and upbeat thank you. It got me thinking about generosity and vulnerability.

We’re more vulnerable when we’re ill and suffering.
Pain breaks down the normal barriers that healthy people take for granted, the psychic boundaries we put up in a grocery store or a crowded elevator. When we’re spending most of our energy trying to feel normal or attempting to breathe through the pain in our muscles, our skin, or the fog in our mind, I think we’re more naturally vulnerable and open to other people’s moods and actions.

This open attitude of heart or viewpoint can make us feel weak. After all, it is only the strong ego that can construct barriers and know exactly who it is and what it wants. But these days, having returned from the trip to the underworld of Lyme disease, I feel, at times, much less attached to the picture of who-I-think-I-am. I feel more porous, less fixed. That fluidity has its own sort of strength.

I wish I could thank that anonymous driver for her small gesture of kindness, which felt to me like a light of consciousness in a murky sea. It could have worked the other way. We’ve all been the recipient of an angry gesture by an impatient driver (or we ourselves have been that angry driver), and we know how that affects us and others too. But as the recipient of her generous action, I went on my merry way with an attitude of gratitude. Like a fairy godmother, she’d waved her wand and changed the landscape from black-and-white to technicolor. In the crowded store, I passed her kindness along like an unexpected gift, and I bet it’s still working its way around town.

Serious illness not only brings suffering, it has another side which is filled with gifts if we are open to receiving them. When I take a genuine, hard inner look, I know I have Lyme to thank for the tremendous blessings in my life now. Riches beyond measure. Among them, more patience, resilience and humility, and an extraordinary awakening of consciousness which is largely unexpected but certainly profound.

Here’s to the spirit of gratitude and vulnerability. What are you grateful for?


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