People are big on physical affection here, as in most of Latin America. Greetings are always accompanied by a kiss on the cheek, and strong embraces are the norm amongst good friends. Not that people don't hug and kiss in the United States, but here, embraces and smooches are frequent, all-occasion gestures. If in the States we add a teaspoon of sweet affection towards others in our daily grind, then here it's two tablespoons. People walk down the street, arm in arm, and not just couples, but mothers and daughters and friends, too. Pats on the shoulder, squeezes of the hand, and families crowding together on the bed or on the sofa to watch movies together are commonplace. On Fridays, when I go to friends' homes for Bible study, I often end up with a child on my lap and one under each arm. I don't have the heart to tell them that sitting in one position for two hours while they fall all over me hurts my back. Anyway, it's probably good for my spirit, if not my limbs.
Not that affection isn't a worldwide phenomenon, but here it's as much a part of conversation as words. You just can't have an encounter without touch.
Not only that, but Costa Ricans are big into music, and few souls are embarrassed to break out in song in front of others. Karaoke bars abound, and in church, in cars, and on the street, people can be found, belting out whatever tune happens to be touching their hearts at that moment. Whenever I find myself in someone's car here, inevitably, I end up being a part of whatever chorus happens to surround me.
Again, it's not that we in the States don't sing, or that we enjoy music any less. Of course not! But we're a bit of a self-conscious culture, afraid to sing too loud unless we're alone, because God forbid if somebody tells us that our voice sucks or they don't like our music! At other times, it seems we're just too stressed to sing, except on Sundays in church.
Finally, I have found laughter to be in abundance here, but I think that's probably just because I attend a church whose pastor leaves me rolling in the aisles, and I also happen to have a few funny friends. Or maybe I'm just more healed than I was two years ago and I can laugh at life more than I used to.
One thing that I've realized lately, however, is how often Lyme disease deprives its sufferers of these things. When chronic illness leaves you isolated, hugs becomes scarce. When your body screams out in pain, squeezes are shunned. When you can't breathe, the last thing you want to do is sing. When life is just plain tragic, why bother with music, anyway? Why laugh? What in the bleep is so funny about life when your body feels like it's been plugged into a socket and you have nobody to share the joke with, anyway?
My heart goes out to all of you who have been missing out on the squeezes, songs and smiles--three things that give great life to the body and spirit. That we need at least two out of the three for our well-being and health is a given, I think. Human beings were made to give and receive physical affection, and to laugh as well as cry. Ideally, if we could make songs a part of our daily life, too, that would give our heart-life an even greater lift.
But how skilled is Lyme disease, or chronic illness, in general, at arranging circumstances so that these things become scarcer in our lives!
I don't think it was until I came to Costa Rica that I realized how vital these three "S's" are for health. I mean, really vital, and not just on an every-once-in-awhile basis, but ideally, every day.
If you live alone and you're too sick to get out of the house, chances are, you aren't going to get a hug every day. Occasions and opportunities for hearty belly laughs amongst friends are probably even rarer. And as long as you've got air hunger...well, you might as well forget about singing.
Or should you?
How about going to You Tube, your ipod or CD collection and finding some of your old favorite tunes, anyway? Sing softly if it steals the wind from you, or sing in your spirit the songs that you really love. Even if you feel horrible, if you find a song that strikes a powerful chord in you, you just may end up doing whatever you can to get your lungs to cough up some air for you. If you're sad, find a melody to match your mood and let your emotions flow, up and out, where they might be felt by someone besides you. I mean, you never know when silent tears of compassion might be raining down upon you from above. Anyway, isn't it funny how, when you express your emotions aloud, even if you are by yourself, you don't feel so alone?
Music is food for the soul, and can bring life to the body, too, especially if it is soothing, or resonates with your heart.
As for laughter, if you can't be surrounded by friends or family members who make you smile, do whatever you can to find funny movies. A good friend who suffered with Lyme disease for nearly forty years gave me this advice a couple of years ago. He said that movies got him through the tough times, but especially funny ones.
Humorous on-line greeting cards and videos on You Tube can have a similar effect. I think truly funny greeting cards are probably less abundant (or maybe it's just me), but I did happen upon one once that left me in stitches. It struck my funny bone on a night when I was tired and grouchy, and I went to sleep that night, the burden of irritability lifted, simply because of the card.
I wish we all had people to laugh with on a daily basis, but for those who are really sick and isolated, making this a reality may be difficult. Obviously, if you can share a good joke or humorous moment with someone, you are fortunate, but it may be that you have to resort to the DVD's.
Consider also that there is humor in Lyme disease, and talking to other Lyme sufferers in jest about your trials can be healing. (Don't try this, however, if you are both herxing)! If you doubt that there is anything funny about Lyme, consider that my most humorous posts have been written, ironically, during my darkest of days. When I wanted to cry, I channeled my pain into words of sarcasm, which ended up giving me relief, as well as a chuckle or two, when all was said and done. Don't know where to start? I challenge you to call a Lyme buddy and chat about coffee enemas and the "normal" folk in your life who wonder what the little red rubber bag in your bathroom is for.
Finally, what about the hugs? I don't know, my friends. I don't have a good answer for this one. If you live alone, and don't see people on a daily basis, where can you get some daily squeezage? Or maybe you're too tired and sick to even care. I went through a stage with chronic Lyme where I didn't care, either. I was too busy hunting for answers to my pain and it was enough of a task just keeping all of my parts together, so receiving affection from others was the last thing on my mind. Support I always needed, but I didn't recognize that hugs were an integral component of that, too. Whenever I happened to see friends and family, however, and was held in my pain, or just embraced by another in greeting, it was wonderful; like a healing to all my joints and marrow.
But so many Lyme sufferers experience little, if any, physical touch. Again, I hang my head for lack of an answer but you might try closing your eyes and imagining the embrace of God, of Jesus, or a fellow Lyme disease sufferer. Of a friend in Costa Rica, who has never met you, but who would reach out with open arms to you if she could.
May you find new ways, and new reasons to sing. To laugh, and to embrace another, because it is for these things that we were made, so that we may live with joy and be healed thereby.