Last week while changing into running clothes, I noticed a rash on my leg, and instantly became convinced I had psoriasis. Psoriasis would have meant that my rheumatoid arthritis medication was failing — something I’ve been terrified of for years. So I called upon my three go-to people: my rheumatologist; my dearest friend; and…(silly me) Frederic.
This was the first time I ever I called my dearest friend in choking sobs. It’ll be okay, she said, just slow down. My saintly rheumatologist walked me through possible contingencies, reminding me for the hundred millionth time that I am a lawyer not a doctor. Frederic, the product of a love-marriage between an ex-priest and a runaway nun, simply (and somewhat unhelpfully) said: Job.
When I calmed down and took the situation for what it was, I wrote Frederic back:
I’d like to think of this more in terms of Ecclesiastes 3:1-15, or if you prefer, The Byrds: There is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.
Being Frederic, he didn’t have more to say about that.
Being me, I ignored my own reflection, and continued my punishing marathon training throughout that week. But by Friday, I was immobilized with what I thought were backspasms. Also, the rash was spreading; blistering. What the hell was going on?
On Saturday, I went to the doctor. I was supposed to be out running a 17-miler. Instead, I was standing in the office of the doctor on-call; half-wrapped in the indignity of a child’s hospital gown.
Have you been under a lot of stress lately? asked the doc.
Not any more than usual — riots, earthquakes, mountain climbs, and oh, today is my wedding anniversary. I’m divorced.
How much sleep do you usually get?
I go to bed around midnight; get up around 4am to take a conference call or two, then I go back to bed for another hour.
She raised both eyebrows into her hairline. It seemed like it was all she could do to refrain from saying, “Are you insane?”
You need to slow down.
I raised my eyebrows at her; took the scripts she proffered and trudged off to Duane Reade, convinced she had no idea what she was talking about. I recounted the experience to Strand later that night, who I trust with my life and who’d come over to enforce the doctor’s orders. Strand, a nurse, gave me fluids then put me to bed, shaking her head at me all the while.
The next day, an old friend of mine was in town and we’d made plans to meet. He’s a road warrior like I am; one of the few people I know who travels for business more than I do.
I convinced him to come uptown, and we sat nursing drinks and our respective ailments — his jetlag and my Chicken Pox Part Deux. As the afternoon became evening, we went for dinner — a newish pub in my neighborhood. The air was thick and the sun sank low earlier than expected, and we enjoyed the early-autumn New York night until the sky opened up with a few fat raindrops over the remnants of our meal.
The Upper East Side had stood still all day as we’d caught up. Was that what slowing down meant? Could slowing down be more than giving up? Could I keep my life in airports, and my crazymaking schedule? Did it really mean to seek the sacred spaces in the ordinary/extraordinary; to find slow, beautiful moments with similarly fast-paced people?
When I got home later that night, I recalled the verse I’d quoted earlier in the week:
What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God…
If the last five months have taught me anything, it is how little control I have over time and space and other people — despite my innate desire to rule the world.
So I got ready for bed that night and looked at my body covered in, well, chicken pox. I was struck by this thought: everything is beautiful in its time — the fast, the slow, the unexpected, the things long awaited.
My life is not likely to slow down any time soon. But I am lucky to be happy while I live, and to share these standstill moments with others.