On accepting our fragility

I have arthritis. There is nothing unusual about that – so do about 10 million people in the UK alone, and it comes in different forms and affects people of all ages. Indeed, a physiotherapist once told me if you x-ray anyone over 25 it will show osteoarthritis, the wear and tear kind. It is not necessarily painful or affects mobility, though I am impacted by both. It is not primarily what this blog is about, but some background might be helpful.


I was first diagnosed with arthritis in my hands in my 40s, and given extra time for the (mercifully few as I’m hopeless at them) exams for my theological studies. At the time I was told – and this phrase will be familiar to many with the same condition and as infuriating as it is to me – ‘What can you expect as you get older?’ I pointed out I was in my 40s not my 90s, to little avail. Two years ago I had foot surgery and had a really lovely consultant – on my last visit I gave him signed copies of both my books and you would think I had given him the best gift ever. He introduced me to the nurse as ‘Jeannie who likes stories’ (having told me several of his own) and said he would read the books with interest and talk to me about them when I came next. Sadly we did not have the conversation because I moved. I do have though a fabulous pair of orthotic boots necessitated by the other foot and ankle.


Enough of all that. I am really not wanting sympathy as I live a full life. That is genuinely not what this is about, though I have learnt much on the journey so far.


No, this blog is about why I have found it so difficult to ‘admit’ that I have arthritis, something I have reflected on a lot recently. Some of it I can understand. For some joints, excess weight is not helpful, and I have battled with my weight – am still fighting that one. I wanted to hug a doctor recently who did not mention it. I was all set to answer ‘I know’. It is difficult – some of you will understand this, some who have wonderful metabolisms or iron self-discipline may not!


There is more though. Although erroneously, arthritis is still considered something associated with age. Just as weight is a sensitive issue, so is aging, at least in the UK. We don’t like to think, most of the time, that we are getting older, because older age can be associated in our minds with a myriad of losses, and of course ultimately with facing our mortality.


Underneath both of these lies the spectre of recognising that we have vulnerabilities and limits. Most of us prefer to think of ourselves as indomitable. We busy ourselves to block them out, sometimes creating new ones in the process. Yet each of us carries them – from heredity, the past, our choices, or other results of the broken world in which we live. And if we parade our non-existent perfection in fact it separates us, whereas if we are more open, it can be a means of connection with others who face their own battles and challenges, even though they are different ones.


Now I am both proud and private, so I am not sure I will ever find it easy, especially in the emotional rather than the more tangible physical realm. I once said to someone who was struggling mentally using a walking stick that when the time came I would use one with pride and decorate it in bright colours. I wonder.


Yet we worship and serve a God who was both limited and vulnerable in the incarnation, the results of which have transformed millions of individual lives and will, scripture tells us, in time lead to the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe being fully restored. Perhaps that very fragility can, if I allow it, help me to accept my own.





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