Tonight I am thinking about the above picture and the caption with it, “Emptiness.” This post is for the WordPress’ Weekly Writing Challenge. The challenge was to write a post inspired by one of four pictures. The one above is the one that spoke to me, so I am here sipping my tea for the evening, Yogi Pure Green, and contemplating how the word “emptiness” can apply to so many radically different things.
The image shows physical emptiness, an empty space. It would easy enough to write a post speculating about where this place is. Why it is empty. What led up to this point in time. What happened after. Or I could compare this to other empty places I’ve known. Plenty of material to write about, but that isn’t what moved me to write.
The image could also symbolize emotional or spiritual emptiness. This would lead to subjects like loss, longing, loneliness, distance from friends, distance from loved ones, distance from God. It would be easy enough to write a dozen posts about these subjects, but again, that is not what came to my mind when I first saw this picture.
There is a feeling of emptiness not many people have felt. I don’t believe many people even know it exists. If you haven’t experienced it, I suspect it would be hard to imagine or understand. To explain it, I need to move from the philosophical to the physical.
No matter how still we may be, our bodies are always moving. We are aware of our breathing and our heartbeat because they are so good at making themselves known. At times we can be aware of the blood pumping in our veins, but what of those things we are not aware of. There are dozens of other processes going on that are either completely beyond our senses or so common and continuous they are beneath our notice. What happens when that changes?
In October of 1987, I had abdominal surgery for the first time. The reasons for the surgery and what led up to it would fill at least a dozen posts, so I will leave those details for another day. The relevant facts are that I went from home to emergency room to surgery in a matter of hours. No one prepared me for what was going to happen, and I didn’t even know enough to ask.
Coming out of surgery, I was aware of only one sensation: PAIN. Pain management in 80’s was woefully inadequate. Pain seemed to emanate from every molecule of my body and every fiber of my being. It felt like how I imagined being hit by a very large truck would feel. The pain meds took a very long time to work, but as they did, I began to notice another sensation: emptiness.
This was a feeling unlike anything I had ever experienced. My body felt hollow, empty. It felt as if the surgeon had simply removed everything in my abdomen and then sewed me back up. I knew this was impossible, but that was how I felt.
It turns out that one of those processes I mentioned above, specifically the digestive process, stops whenever surgery is performed on part of it. Normally, it pumps away twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week from before we are born until we die. The medical term for it is peristalsis. We don’t notice it because it is always there. We only notice it when it stops. Then all it leaves is the empty, hollow feeling I mentioned until it decides to start back up a few days later.
I have had this experience five more times since that day in 1987. It is always eerie because if feels like an integral part of me is missing. This feeling is heightened late at night when I would lie awake in a dimly lit hospital room with only the humming and beeping of medical equipment around me. The emptiness of the room, the emptiness of my spirit would echo the emptiness in my body to create an other-worldly feeling not comparable to anything else. It has changed me in many ways, not the least of which is that I am far more aware of what is going on inside my body than I ever was before.
We are complicated beings in a fragile state of equilibrium. It doesn’t take much to send the body careening out of control. I am thankful for the days when my body can hold itself together, and I try to be understanding when it fails. Mostly, I try to appreciate the moment because that is where I live.