Those of us who face illness remember the before and after moments: The day the phone rang, or the doctor walked into your hospital room, and it was clear that life as you had known it was about to change. You discover that you have cancer or multiple sclerosis, or that your loved one has been diagnosed with a chronic disease.
You hang up the phone or walk out of the hospital feeling as if your world has been transformed. It's not simply fear that makes you so disoriented -- it's because you are in the midst of experiencing a true glimpse of the great preciousness and precariousness of life.
On a daily basis, we tend to be conditioned to live within a limited perception of our consciousness and power. Yet illness manages to help us find ourselves, to free ourselves. It is in the face of suffering that so many of us are thrown into the depths of ourselves and come up bearing treasures of strength, insight and courage we never knew were there.
Falling ill is like joining a private fraternity -- one you would never enter voluntarily, but whose membership reveals profound truths that most of us are too busy rushing through our days to consider. In the midst of everyday life, you are suddenly jolted by your own fallibility and finiteness, by the fact that you are no more durable than the shoes on your mortal feet.
In a culture that manages to cordon off this reality as if it were the special circumstances of others, you perceive all at once that this is your fleeting, precious human life. And then it's as if a veil has been ripped from your eyes.
Those you've known before are back on the other side of the mountain, in the carefree valley of the healthy - their oblivious days unmarked by the blood tests, biopsies or CAT scans. No matter how much they try, it's difficult for them to comprehend what you have seen from your new perspective.
When I first was diagnosed with systemic lupus at the age of 15, I yearned for something specific -- to connect with others who knew what I was experiencing. But I didn't know where or how to find other people who could relate. So I started my organization Friends' Health Connection, in order to create a place where people with illness could find and connect with one another -- for friendship and mutual support.
Through the years I have discovered that this connectedness, this sharing, can be a haven.
Some connections made through Friends' Health last for a long time, sometimes even a lifetime. For example, two young men suffering from brain tumors call each other every morning for support and encouragement. A woman with cystic fibrosis on the east coast bonded with another woman, similarly afflicted, a thousand miles to the west. Another woman named her baby in honor of her friend.
What is at the root of this deep, essential connection? It isn't physical touch -- it is something more, something invisible and yet so profound. It is sharing and connecting.
There's a theory in science called Bell's Theorem, which claims that two particles once connected are never separated, that they are stuck together by something called entanglement. This exists in the real world, but we can't see it. Yet I visualize this with each friendship that is made (metaphorically speaking, of course).
During the difficult times we can take comfort in knowing that we are united together in the web of love that exists below the surface. There is an interconnectedness, an intertwined circuitry among us through which we can find comfort and solace.