Last night I held four, small, purple pills in my hand – my first dose of Methotrexate to treat my rheumatoid arthritis (RA). I knew I had to take them, but I was frightened, because it is a very potent drug, used only in very serious conditions like RA and cancer. I went online – not always the best thing to do – and I saw that it can cause death, lymphoma, kidney or liver failure, and so on. There should be a label on the drug with skulls and crossbones, which says, “For God’s sake! Don’t take this medicine!”
Why would I do this? It always comes down to no other choice. One morning I woke up, and I was like a stone woman. I could not get up or down from a chair or walk without involuntary cries of pain. I was shocked that my right hand did not work, and I could not hold a piece of toilet paper. My body was no longer my own.
The week before, when I could feel the RA coming on, I told my Zen teacher, Norman Fischer, “I am not suicidal, but sometimes I think death wouldn’t be that bad.” For the first time I thought that death was not a tragedy. Such is the wonderful relationship between teacher and student, that Norman inserted a little message about gratitude for being alive in the middle of his talk on forgiveness that he gave yesterday.
When you think about life in a dispassionate way, what a fantastic thing it is to be alive in the world! It’s a beautiful world. The sun shines. All these little details that are so bright and pure and beautiful…Of course there are problems and things happen that we don’t like, but at least we are alive to feel all that. That itself is a fantastic thing, that we could feel joy and sorrow, happiness and sadness. This is a fantastic thing, that if any one of us thought about it, we would be celebrating every minute.
This morning in zazen I felt sick and discouraged. As I followed my breath, I deliberately focused on how great it was to take the in-breath after the long exhalation. When you are dead, well, there is no in-breath again. How deeply, deeply precious it is to take the next breath. A fantastic thing, really.