My home office computer died the day before Christmas Eve. Everything was already done. Worship happened just fine. I went on vacation. I came back and had the power supply replaced, but it still didn’t work. I made the decision to move back into the church office and stop working at home. Weeks passed. The computer repair person got sick. More weeks passed. Then he ordered a new part. Still more weeks passed. It was the wrong part. He went to look for a new part. That was last week.
Though I would like access to some of the files on it, because I moved back to the church office I don’t miss it as much as I might have. I spend about the same amount of time folding laundry, but much more time in the garden. I spend about the same amount of time food shopping, but more time out of doors taking pictures and melting away the stress of life. I have begun to look at life differently and my recent move to playing around with black and white photography perhaps reflects this. It is not simply about converting a photograph to greyscale using software tools. Not simply about removing color. Not truly. It is about looking at the world differently. Light. Texture. Balance. Shadow. Expression. Interaction. Contrast. It is amazing what many shades of grey can do.
Nine months ago I surrendered to the conclusion that many year’s worth of struggles with anxiety and depression could no longer be beaten with a handful of therapist visits, a few hundred more steps a day, and a promise to change my work habits which involved working as much as possible then working some more, typically at home and then setting a day off that I rarely took. Over the course of those long years I had suffered reflux, eye twitches, sleepless nights, paralyzing anxiety, stress-induced “man issues,” and IBS-like symptoms that earned me an early colonoscopy. Then I was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease in which the body’s defensive mechanism turns upon healthy body cells and organs. Where did that disease come from? The factors are many and intermingled and difficult to pinpoint, but according to the Lupus Foundation of America stress is one possible environmental trigger that can lead to the disease. And this I had in plenty. I know there is good stress and bad stress and though the dividing line might be a little fuzzy, when it starts to do one harm, it gets harder to deny the need for change. So over the past months I have sought through a combination of medicine, therapy, and behavioral changes to do just that.
It is not perfect. There is no point of balance where the scales of my life stop wobbling and I am not sure there ever will be. I accept that. Nine months have now passed and while things are so much better, small anxious cracks occasionally appear to remind me of the fragility of it all. Some of these cracks are pure silliness like worrying about how I will re-write the Easter outdoor sunrise service for no longer having a musician for it for the first time in fourteen years. Some are cracks that emerge from the internal gnawing of fear: what if this small sliver of anxiety comes from a failing efficacy of the combination of medicines that have brought me back my life?
I have sought to answer such worry, especially during this season of Lent, by returning again and again to the Everglades, a place of eternal springtime. As soon as I leave my car with a camera strapped about my neck everything changes. As Martin Luther once wrote:
Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime
At Eco Pond in Flamingo after 38 miles of driving from the Entrance to the Homestead Unit of Everglades National Park, surrounded by a snowstorm of Southern White Butterflies enjoying the flowering peppergrass and Spanish needle, the power and promise of the gift of this life lift my soul. A red-shouldered hawk stays just ahead in the shadows of trees before flying off. Pink Flamingo-like roseate spoonbills feed among a flock of white ibis. A lone osprey rides the thermals high up in the sky, its call piercing the quiet. A tri-colored heron, still as stone, stands upon an exposed tree root waiting for an unwary fish to come too close.
“Have you seen a purple gallinule?” a woman asks me as she walks by with her own camera strapped about her neck. Maybe she is just trying to complete some mental checklist of birds so she can call it a day. Or perhaps she is another pilgrim seeking our God of mercy who whispers a word of healing in the beauty of birds and through the song of the wind through the sawgrass prairies, cypress stands and mangrove forests that stretch out before us.