Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The time I had a heart attack

Okay, it wasn’t diagnosed. Years later, I recognized the symptoms when a friend described an attack they had to me. But the physical problem is almost beside the point. The problem was healed when I realized the attack was really on the work I was doing, not on me or my body.

At the time I was participating in the launch of a new Website based on the ideas in Science and Health. As one of the creative team of four, it was vitally important that I be at work, every day, on time, and at my best. We all felt the project was life-or-death important—it had the potential to change the world in a way that had never happened before.

In some respects, I really did feel my life was on the line. It’s hard to describe, but to feel that intense a sense of purpose every day was exhilarating. Our team was close-knit and getting closer every day. Eventually we began to see that each one of us had been placed there to make our irreplaceable contribution to the final product. We were all essential.

Well, one morning, as I readied myself for work, I experienced out-of-the-blue pain that I’d never felt before. I won’t describe it, but suffice to say it knocked me right over. I could do nothing but lie down on my bed and stare in panic at the ceiling. Breathing was difficult. I was staying alone in small apartment, so there was no one at hand to talk to. And it was still early enough that I hesitated to call anyone.

It didn’t make any logical sense, that’s for sure. I mentally ran through the typical stuff—had I strained myself? Eaten poorly? Was I getting old? None of that checked out at all. There was no cause for this problem.

Then it occurred to me that this was an attack on the work I was doing. Light dawned! This was an attempt by mortality to undercut the work. When I had accepted the assignment, no longer was I Laura Matthews, free agent, but I became Laura Matthews, essential worker on a project that needed to see completion.

So I rebuked the problem from that standpoint. I am needed, I thought. You can’t stop me from doing my work. This conviction calmed me. A bit of time passed, I recovered, and got up and went to work. Interestingly, several other members of the team had experienced their own attempts to keep them from work that day. We all got through it, and forged ahead.

My whole life was like that for several more years. Every problem that threatened to derail me was overcome with the understanding that it wasn’t an attack on me, but on the work. We wound up accomplishing a great deal, most notably providing comfort and inspiration in the wake of 9/11, the Iraq war, the Columbia space shuttle disaster, the elections, and the tsunami. And there was so much other healing happening in between.

Now that I’m once again what you might call a “free agent,” it is still true that I have a unique and essential role to play in the world around me. Everyone does. At this moment, you have something important to accomplish that only you can do. Don’t let the lies of mortality get in your way. Fight on the basis that your contribution is important—even essential—and you will be victorious.


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