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There’s something to be said for getting sick at, or near, the beginning of Lent.

Since Saturday I have had a cold, although on Saturday I didn’t know it, and on Sunday I was just beginning to wonder about it. By Monday it was definite, and yesterday was the worst; and today, I’m still not fit for human society. Now, if you’re going to get sick at all, the best way to get sick is with a cold, or even the flu. It’s not serious enough to cause you to die by inches, in unimaginable suffering, but it’s enough to cancel all your usual plans, lay you flat, and get you to do some thinking, even if the depth of your thought is nothing more metaphysical than, “God, why me?!”

The thing is, being sick reminds you of the one awareness Americans spend most of their lives running from: We are weak. It’s almost unAmerican to be weak. Nobody likes weaklings in this country, and to be fair, America wouldn’t be America if we hadn’t had a sense of our innate strength. (I’m thinking of my great-grandmother on my father’s side, one of those tough old Kansas pioneer women who was a child in the days of Wyatt Earp and Jesse James, and who died at the age of 105.) It took stamina to settle the West!

But the fact remains: We are weak. My grandmother on my father’s side went deaf at age 10 from measles. My stepfather’s sister died from measles, also at age 10. (Come to think of it, I was 10 when I had measles…) My grandmother on my mother’s side died from complications in childbirth, leaving behind six children aged 11 to 6 weeks. Nobody wants these things to happen, but they do. Nobody wants to get sick, but we do. Why? Because there’s only so much stamina we possess, and when we tap it out — we get sick. And then what do we do? Stay in bed, drink hot fluids, growl at everybody, and grouse to ourselves that our lives have to be put on hold. And — at least, I do this — periodically I look up at my icons with bleary eyes and say, “This sucks.”

In other words, I turn to God.

It’s good to be reminded at the beginning of Lent that our own resources are limited at best, and probably more realistically an illusion. It’s good to turn to God, even if only to say, “This sucks.” And God, in His mercy — allows us to have this experience without pulling the rug out from under our feet (“You have two months to live”). Just enough to remind us that we can make all the Five-Year Plans we want — He’s still in charge.

Point taken, Lord. Now, what else would You like me to learn from this upcoming Lent?

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