The Vaporizer

The cold moved into my chest a week or two ago and shows every sign of having settled in quite comfortably for the duration, with no intention of moving on for the next little while. I am doing all the right things--rest, lots of fluids--but nonetheless, the thing is a nuisance. It keeps me tired and short of breath and endlessly coughing and honking into handkerchiefs and paper towels. Disgusting. A pain in the keister.

Remembering chest colds past and what does the most good, I rummaged through the family cupboards in search of the old vaporizers--the ones I got when the kids were little, one per child (cross-sib contagion being what it is). Both had vanished, presumably given the heave-ho during one of our fruitless closet-purgings. Shoot. Phooey. So: out to the local pharmacy to invest $30 in a new vaporizer (Vicks), plus appropriate menthol gunk, to clear my beleaguered airways.

I filled the thing with water, put menthol gunk in the little well where it belongs, set it on the kitchen floor next to the table where I read at night, plugged it in, and settled down to my novel, with the steam and menthol fumes rising around me. It does help, this steam-treatment; it reaches 'way down into the gooped-up depths, down to the bronchioli that aren't really tied in knots but feel that way, untangling and soothing and loosening stuff up. Its reach is subtle and very gentle; no abruptness or violence here, but a mild persuasiveness. And as my breathing eased a little, I found that my shoulders weren't knotting up so much either--a little at a time, nothing spectacular, no instant miracles. But easement, nonetheless.

Sometimes we think of the Holy Spirit as a brawling, roaring wind, tumbling old customs arse over teakettle; sometimes we think of it as that "still small voice"--the sheer silence Elijah encountered after the wind, earthquake and fire. I've always seen the Spirit as the thing-in-me that responds to the God-outside-me, like a small inner magnet responding to the tug of a big outer one. But I'm not sure it had ever occurred to me before to imagine the Holy Spirit as something like this gentle medicinal trickle of warm wet air, making its way into the middle of me, for curative purposes. It's a warm image, one I think I could play with.

So often, in our inner illnesses--especially the illnesses of mind or spirit--we don't want to accept healing. We're ashamed of the fact that we don't have it all together. We'd like to think of ourselves as good and loving people, and finding out that in fact we aren't what we supposed we were is a terrific blow to our (already fragile) self-esteem. It's really tough to find out that others think that we're a Problem when we feel like misunderstood Good Guys--so tough that often we refuse to believe them, even when they're right.

Faced with the soul-equivalent of a bad flu, we think we're supposed to tough it out: "I can get the better of this if I really put my mind to it." Or worse still: we turn away from our own inner woundedness in order to pounce upon the wounds of others, whether to drag them down to our level or to silence our own personal demons. It's so much easier to rail about the sins of the world than it is to confront your own real sins, after all. It's so much easier to psychopathologize someone else than to understand, truly and completely, that you too have some pretty big problems of your own.

One way or another, sometimes we do the best we can to avoid recognizing our own spiritual ailments. This is why physical disease is often so much easier to deal with. I can't ignore my chest cold; the evidence is overwhelming. And so I can welcome the sweet relief of the camphor-scented steam, and be grateful for its comfort, when I might easily turn away from the Comforter.

Lately I've had to face deep honkin' soul-crud on two or three different levels, and it has been purely interesting. Why is it that I have so much more trouble reaching for the Holy Spirit than I do for a Vicks vaporizer? Why is it so much easier to breath in mentholated steam, and to welcome that relief, than it is to trust deeply in God my Maker? You'd think I'd know better after all these years....I guess I don't feel as responsible for a chest cold as I do for my own state of soul--with some justice; but also perhaps with some un-self-forgiveness? If I can't accept God's understanding mercy, how can I accept the Holy Spirit?

I reached for my battered paperback Bible--my working version, the one with the ancient Pogo cartoon buried deep in Ezekiel--and trudged my way through the Psalms, looking for the most abysmally depressed and wallowing-in-misery ones I could find. I read three of them aloud to myself, quietly, and then sat and inhaled for a while. Then I toted the vaporizer upstairs, plugged it back in, and got to bed, and let the steam surround me.

Lord, have mercy.

Copyright © 2002 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 26 Jan 2002
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