Last summer I had a major surgery to repair my left wrist and elbow. My personal anatomy, sports injuries from my youth, and the wear and tear of midlife finally conspired to take away my ability to play guitar, type on a keyboard, or to even raise a cup of coffee from the counter.
My orthopedic surgeon was a magician. In the space of a couple of hours he had released a few tendons, performed a transposition of my ulnar nerve (he moved my funny bone), and tidied up a case of carpel tunnel syndrome. But the time I spent beneath the orthopedic’s scalpel was only a small part of my healing.
It was the physical therapist who followed the surgeon that did the real work, a highly skilled physician and practitioner in her own right. And I hated every single minute of it. Three times a week for a dozen weeks I was subjected to torture, torture for which me and my health insurance provider willingly paid.
Stretching and strengthening exercises. Weights and giant rubber bands. Incision blading, hand cycles, and Catherine wheels: I never knew that a seemingly harmless grandmother no more than five feet tall and a hundred pounds could inflict so much pain. Yet, the pain was required – if I ever wanted to use my arm again.
But that’s the thing, isn’t it? Healing hurts. Ask anyone who has recovered from open heart surgery. Ask anyone who has taken chemotherapy. Ask anyone who has had a broken bone set or repaired. Ask any addict who finally gets that one year sobriety token. The path to wholeness is always paved with necessary suffering.
I think much of what we see around us in these days, rather than being viewed as inexplicable turmoil, can be seen as a necessary process of a society trying to get healthier. Our old injuries need proper care, proper attention. Hobbling around on broken bones can no longer be tolerated; surgery and rehabilitation are long overdue; unresolved grievances are getting cleansed. So, we must not be surprised at the malignancies that are being revealed. It’s part and parcel to the cure.
And it’s not only about racial healing. It’s healthcare, political parties and structures, organized religion, higher education, economic disparity. Everything is up for grabs it seems! Thus, we are at a moment of decision, a moment few generations get to see: Will we do the hard, patient, grinding work that will heal our society; or will persist, pretending that we are not injured to our moral souls, being unwilling to endure the necessary suffering that will lead to our health and wellness?
So, I’m no longer going to talk about 2020 in terms of darkness and all that has gone wrong. Rather, I see the light shining, shining like a surgeon’s headlamp, revealing our sicknesses and our broken places. We can become “strong in those broken places,” as Hemingway said, if we are willing to do the followup work that brings healing.