We have now had a fever for 42 days. Off and on. Mine had gone away yesterday and I thought, maybe this is it. Maybe this was a fever that lasted 40 days and 40 nights, that started two days before I stopped being 40 years old. And maybe if that’s true, there is a deeper spiritual meaning to it. So, I researched the number 40.
They say 40 in the Bible essentially means, a really long time. It rained for 40 days and 40 nights when Noah was out on the ark. The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years. Moses’s life is divided into three 40 year phases. Jesus was tempted by Satan for 40 days. He stayed with the disciples 40 days before ascending to Heaven where he is seated at the right hand of the Father.
They also say 40 represents a new beginning. It has to do with it being a factor of 5 and 8, and 4 and 10. I will skip over those details. After 40 days, the flood receded and it was a new world. After 40 years the Hebrews were considered to have paid the price for their disobedience and given a new life in the promised land. After 40 days, the Holy Spirit anointed the disciples and they were reborn. In Judaism, the embryo is considered to be formed at 40 days gestation. And a pregnancy lasts 40 weeks.
It also represents water, baptism, mikvah. There is the great flood. In traditional Judaism a woman goes to the mikvah ritual bath for purification 40 days after having a son, 80 days after a daughter. The mikvah is filled with 40 seah of water.
According to the Jewish Talmud, at 40 years old you gain the gift of understanding. You come to begin to fully understand all you’ve been taught.
I have been feeling exhausted lately, burdened. And feeling like I will forever be wandering in the wilderness, the promised land always just slightly out of reach. Time and again telling myself, you just need to get through this phase and then things will get easier. At what point do I admit to myself it’s a lie, that this is as good as it gets? In other words, I have been hopeless and have lost that sense of possibility I’d been so grateful to regain back in 2015 when my PTSD was healed.
My life is better than a lot of people’s and I know this in my head and I know this in my heart. But their suffering did not seem to alleviate mine. I kept telling myself to get over it, but I just couldn’t.
Perhaps it’s the nature of this fever. You feel good for a day or two or three. Really good. And you’re so grateful. You have energy and joy and you can run and get things done and enjoy life. And you think this is it, I’m better. I can get on with my life. And then it comes back.
Perhaps it’s this quarantine grinding us all down. Or the fact I had three people close to me in my life a year ago and now I have none. And I’m in isolation and can’t replace them. I cannot picture my future because none of us can. We do not know what will happen with the economy, with the pandemic, with the election, with the way things are done and the way we relate to one another. And so, how do we have a sense of possibility? There are infinite possibilities and none at all.
And so I looked to the number 40 for hope. If my fever lasted 40 days then maybe there was a divine reason God had allowed it to go on so long. Maybe God had a plan for me. Maybe beyond 40 years and 40 days and nights I would emerge from the wilderness and finally enter the promised land. Purified and born again.
But here I sit on day 42. Maybe sometimes a fever of unknown origin is just a fever of unknown origin.
I had the energy to play with my daughter today. She couldn’t believe it. We ran shuttle runs and played charades and had a jumping competition. I felt great. For now, I’ll take that and be grateful. We’re not promised a damn thing in this life. If I ever return to good physical health and energy I will be grateful in a way I couldn’t have been before. When we emerge from this quarantine and I can be with my patients in my office again, I will be grateful in a way I couldn’t have been before. And when the second forty years of my life are easier than the first (and they will be. I know this much is true), I will be grateful in a way I couldn’t have before.
I hate the saying what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, even though it’s true. I mean, what a crappy gift: the knowledge now you can make it through something even more awful. But this truth has saved my butt more than once and I put faith in it that my children’s difficulties have done that for them. Because life is hard and the best thing we can do for our kids is prepare them to face whatever it throws at them without falling apart. But what doesn’t kill you also makes you more grateful (if you let it).
I’m grateful for my kids’ fever because at one time their immune systems were so dysregulated, their bodies couldn’t mount a fever response to invading pathogens. I’m grateful every time my 14 year old acts like a jerky teenager because he gets to a live a relatively normal teenage life now instead of being in PANDAS hell. I’m grateful every time I eat a meal without an abusive husband there criticizing what I’m eating or not eating because that was not always the case. I’m grateful to be a doctor, the good and the bad, because it was almost taken from me and I gave literal blood, tears and a piece of my soul (and my cervix) to get through my training. I’m grateful for the sense of possibility because for so many years in PTSD, it wasn’t there as I dwelled in that place between life and death.
So maybe that’s what the promised land really is: gratitude. If we never wandered through the desert for forty years, how could we even know we were in the promised land? Maybe it is not a static place, this promised land. Maybe it can’t be. Maybe it’s an oasis where we replenish ourselves and get a rest before heading out again. We never know how far into the wilderness we will go and for how long, but we know the promised land is always there. Until we reach the end of this life and enter the world without end and find that possibility we have been been seeking once and for all.