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Faith (Epiphany in the Hospital Gym)

February 8, 2016

I encountered Faith today - Belief, that intangible, formless Grace that is the subject and object of all religious practices, said to be possessed in great measure by virtuous beings, seemingly rejected by wicked beings, avidly sought after by penitents, and passively tolerated and ignored by everyone else.

It was invisible, but it was near me somewhere in the surrounding air. I had never before felt it, although in hindsight I am sure that it had been with me almost always during my life until I had a stroke from a blood clot that lodged in my lower brain. The clot must have knocked Faith out. I lost it suddenly, not ever having known what Faith is nor where it resides, and not ever having realized that it was accompanying me all along since my beginnings.

After the stroke I couldn't walk, my speech was slurred, I couldn't touch my pinky to my thumb and I couldn't draw a straight line. I thought to myself, ‘It's good that you've spent your life up to this point drawing and painting and being in the company of artists and models and friends who nourish themselves with music, theater, poetry and the spoken and written word. It's all right if you can never draw again; you can still write your memoirs by typing with one finger.’

At the hospital I spend every morning in the Acute Rehabilitation Center with a physical therapist. I walk up and down stairs with a cane while holding on to a railing, so that I will be able to go home and walk up the five flights of stairs that I have been negotiating at least once a day for 38 years.

Today in the rehab gym the therapist had me take one practice step up onto a platform with only a cane but no railing. I was conscious of the drab and colorless hospital surroundings, unsure of my balance, and afraid that I couldn't take the step. Fear was no more tangible than Faith, I found. It was just there, by my side, accompanying me.

I tried to be positive, focusing my concentration on the task, taking in a deep breath and imagining the step as though I had already taken it successfully. ‘You need to choose,’ I told myself. ‘Believe that you will stay steady.’ Exhaling, I lifted my foot up, only to be overwhelmed by fear as my thighs pulled my body up. My foot contacted the platform and I wobbled. I caught myself as the therapist reached over to steady me. I imagined a downward spiral that described what the lack of Faith might look like, from insecurity to fear to panic, like the rungs of hell, each stage worse than the previous one.

‘You've lost Faith,’ I told myself. Then, I commanded myself, ‘Find it.’

Then, all of a sudden I realized that Faith is to be found in the act of breathing, that every breath taken in is an act of Faith, and that Faith is the air itself, always present.

Or, as the proverb goes, ‘Just keep breathing, and the rest will take care of itself.’

copyright © 2017 Minerva Durham