paradox (noun) – a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true.
I’ve noticed in the past week that much of my life is a paradox. I start out on some kind of journey focused intensely on a destination. Yet once I arrive at that destination, I realize that the annoying and frustrating journey itself held the greatest value. I strive to achieve a goal. Yet once I do, I almost immediately begin to minimize the achievement in my head and begin to long for something greater. Why can’t I just be happy to have achieved the goal? Well, I am happy in a way, but in a way I am more dissatisfied than ever. It’s like success helps me to realize that my potential is greater than I previously realized and therefore my achievement really ought to have been expected. My success itself sows the seeds of discontent. A paradox!
Last week I was admitted to the hosptial because my blood platelets were dangerously low. I had to be confined for my own protection. Had I fallen and hit my head with virtually no platelets, I would probably have died.
Yet the confines of the hospital felt strangely liberating. In a hospital, nobody expects anything from you. You have no real cares and obligations. Nice ladies get you extra pillows and blankets. Food is ordered and delivered to your bedside. Nurses work to make you as comfortable as possible.
This type of confinement freed my mind in a refreshing way. I did some work-related things from my bed. With unusual mental clarity, I got many things accomplished quickly. Then I grabbed my IV pole and started doing laps around the ward to get my steps. While I walked, I listened to some great podcasts. This gave me some much needed high level perspective. It was a great blessing.
As I look back on my Facebook and Instagram posts, I am struck by how the past week has prompted me to post a good number of positive, hopeful, even joyful updates on social media. I’m not trying to deny all the bad things that have happened to me recently. (I’ll get to those in a moment.) I’m not trying to “pose” for the social media crowd. Not trying to make my life look better than it really is. I’m just genuinely grateful for all these blessings.
And yet given the torrent of troubles that have befallen me recently, this really makes no sense at all… unless you understand life as a paradox.
I’m not going to lie. The past several weeks have been enormously trying. While walking slowly outside one morning, I inexplicably fell and broke my kneecap in half. This is one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced. The pain and stiffness makes even the most mundane tasks challenging. Something as mindless as changing clothes has become something to dread, something for which I must mentally prepare. I’ve been moving around at half speed. Besides the knee itself, I battled severe lower back pain that brought me to an 8 or 9 on the pain scale. I was five minutes from an emergency hospital visit. Then I got an infection and my blood counts dropped. My platelets were so low that I was bleeding from everywhere: scratches, mouth, gums, face, and other unmentionables. It was disturbing to see so much blood coming out of so many parts of my body. In addition, my hemoglobin fell, leaving me extremely fatigued and, frankly, depressed. I know the cause was physical, but the darkness was emotional. I had to be hospitalized for 4 days to fix all these things. When I returned home on a Thursday night there immediately arose a long distance crisis to manage with our kids and some other family issues to address. It was exhausting.
I hate that I am constantly the reason for other people not being able to do things that they want to do. I feel terrible that I am the source of emotional struggle for my poor wife. Postponing anniversaries. Not taking trips that were being planned. I can only truly be at peace when Margy is happy. Yet I always seem to be pulling the rug out from under her feet. My illnesses put her through such turmoil that it breaks my heart. She deserves better.
Currently, I’m on a super high dose of Prednisione which basically makes me a mess. Prednisone amplifies all my emotions. It’s like being a pubescent teenage girl with all of that uncontrollable emotional volatility. Prednisone also comes with weight gain. This past spring I lost 30 pounds and physically felt the best I have felt in a very long time. The Prednisone makes me ravenously hungry. There is no “Off” switch. I almost can’t resist food. With my kneecap broken I’m struggling to walk and burning fewer calories. I’m gaining about a pound per day. Worse still, the Prednisone “moon face” effect is starting to kick in. The “gut pile” thing is happening too. I’m back to wearing my fat clothes. It feels so gross.
In the meantime, the papylomas on my vocal cords are growing again. I’m losing my voice. Speaking has become difficult and exhausting. I have to catch my breath after each sentence. My technology voice prompts don’t work. Call center service people are calling me ma’am again. Yes, every time the papylomas return, I get mistaken on the phone for a woman.
Them: “What is your name?”
Me: “Robert Kloska”
Them: “Thanks. How may I help you, ma’am?”
Yes, I see the humor. I genuinely laugh. But deep down, it bothers me. I’m due for another vocal cord surgery at the University of Michigan but we can’t do it until my blood counts get to safe levels.
On that front, the lab results have indicated that I have Parvovirus B19. This diagnosis explains a lot of issues in my medical history. The treatment is about 9 or 10 hours of IVIG therapy. Should be fairly routine. Except that there is a nationwide shortage of IVIG. I can’t get started for another TWO weeks. Ugh!
On top of all this, it makes me sick how much money we are spending on medicine. We have so many better ways to spend our money. Hopes and dreams and house projects! Yet, once again, we’re sending thousands and thousands of dollars to doctors, labs, hospitals, physical therapists, clinics. Then there’s all the other hidden expenses associated with illness and injury. In such circumstances it’s easy to spend money to buy convenience because you’re just too darn tired to care. Such a waste of resources that could be put to such excellent use. Ugh!
Then there’s the price you pay in time, the frustration of hours upon hours in waiting rooms and car rides. I spend so much time in waiting rooms that I have developed the habit of measuring the time I spend in waiting rooms. 12 hours last week. Seven hours this week. It can suck the life out of you.
But if you look at Facebook and Instagram, you’d think I’m having a jolly old time in life. And you’d be correct to think so. Why? Given all the above, why am I so hopeful? People actually ask me why I seem so happy. It’s hard to explain because it’s a paradox. It’s the paradox of the cross.
Yes, I admit that I’m pretty pretty happy. On the other hand, I’m also pretty miserable. But with the source of my suffering out of my control, I might as well focus on the positive. Self-pity is the deadliest poison.
If, as people tell me, I seem to be good at suffering, take note. But don’t look at me. Look at the source of my joy. It is Christ who shines within me. Whatever good you see, whatever joy – that’s from Christ! The more I suffer, the more grace He bestows. The more I hurt, the more I can smile. The more I am tempted to despair, the more I am resolved to hope. Anything good you see in me – please credit God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If you see a spark of joy, know that it comes from Him. I’m incapable of generating that kind of joy myself. It is a gift. On a merely human level, I need also to add Jesus’ mom, Our Lady. She helps me everyday. She is my #1 mentor and role model. I can’t even imagine going through this without her.
So where did I get this ability to suffer? Well, from the best I can tell it is a learned skill, cultivated through prayer and effort over time, but only made possible by supernatural grace. I have to learn how to accept and cooperate with God’s gestures towards me.
Fortunately, my faith has been shaped over the years by the Congregation of Holy Cross (CSC). I was baptized in a CSC parish in South Bend. Notre Dame was my childhood team and now my alma mater. (Go Irish!) I spent two years in the CSC seminary. I worked for 17 years at Holy Cross College during which time Blessed Basil Moreau, CSC, began to regain prominence in the collective consciousness of the congregation. I myself was part of this “restoration” of the founder and I immersed myself in his spirituality. I pushed hard to bring students from the Notre Dame / St. Mary’s / Holy Cross College community to his beatification in France. A few years later, I even went to Rome to attend the canonization of the CSC’s first saint, St. Brother Andre Bessette, CSC.
If you ever have a chance to read the writings of Blessed Basil Moreau, CSC, I highly recommend them. One of his greatest strengths was his understanding of the gift of suffering. In his mind, suffering provided the opportunity to become more and more like Christ. Therefore, it is not something to be avoided. Rather, it should be embraced. Wow!
“Happy indeed are we if we know how to profit by (our trials) and to understand the unspeakable advantage of becoming more and more conformed to the image of the Divine Christ crucified. For those who live by faith the cross is a treasure more valuable than gold and precious stones. If we were truly worthy of our vocation, far from dreading these crosses, we would be more eager to accept them…Let us not allow ourselves, then, to be discouraged by trials, no matter how numerous or bitter they may be.” (Circular Letter 34, 1848)
The motto of the Congregation of Holy Cross is “Ave Crux Spes Unica!” which means “Hail the Cross, Our Only Hope!” Think about this for a moment. The cross was an instrument of torture and death. Yet through the cross Jesus Christ redeems the world. The worst thing is the best thing!
Yes, the cross of Christ is my one true hope. Jesus told his followers, “If you wish to be my disciple, you must deny yourself, take up your cross everyday, and follow me.” Ave Crux Spes Unica. I believe in this motto so strongly that I once led an effort to build a stone archway at Holy Cross College proclaiming it all. We got it done. I hope it stands for a thousand years.
A profound and lifegiving paradox indeed!