I'm home sick with a cold. I cancelled my classes today.
When I first started teaching, I would never cancel classes when I was ill. Sneezing and coughing and wheezing, I would "power through." It's one thing to cancel when one is going out of town, and one gives one's students lots of notice. It's another to wake up at 5:00AM feeling so horrible one can barely get out of bed, and call in an absence. I hate the thought of my kids making an unnecessary trip to campus. So, in the early days, I prolonged my illnesses and probably passed on my sickness to innumerable folks.
When I was in junior high school, especially 6th and 7th grade, I often feigned illness in order to stay home from school. My mother found it to be an exasperating habit, and in later years, I felt considerable guilt for having missed so many school days under false pretenses. As a result, by the time I was in college, it was almost impossible to keep me out of the classroom, regardless of my condition. I discovered that massive amounts of coffee and DayQuil together could get me through anything -- even if it ended up prolonging the illness for days.
I've learned my lesson. I'm staying home today, drinking tea and eating lightly. I've been fighting this cold since before we went to Texas eleven days ago, and yesterday afternoon, it hit with full force. I'm absolutely confident I will be better tomorrow -- my sincere apologies to any of my students who happen to be reading this post. I do dislike doing this to you guys!
One of the reasons why I am willing to cancel classes when I'm sick is that I think it's important that I send a message that it is okay to listen to the needs of one's body. Heck, whether anyone gets the message or not, I need to listen to my body! When I was teaching while coughing and wheezing and hanging on to the podium for dear life, I believe I was sending a message of profound disrespect for the body's needs. We live in a culture that says "push through it", "keep going", "you can rest when you're dead." Though I don't believe we all can or should seclude ourselves at the first sign of a scratchy throat, I do think our hyper-competitive culture places an undue premium on gritting one's teeth and "powering through" illness. I think that's unfortunate.
Yesterday's post immediately below was about respecting the needs and desires of our bodies. I was writing in terms of food in particular; I also touched on sex. But today, in a small way, I am reminded of my body's frailty. I, like so many others, am guilty of thinking of my body as a machine that can be pushed and pushed and pushed. As an amateur athlete, I push my body up and down mountains. As a "busy professional", I tell my body it needs to perform while only sleeping 6 hours a night (and often less). Though I am getting better about this, in my youth I alternately stuffed my body full of sugar and then deprived it of all sustenance for far too long. And I still force it to process gallons of diet Coke a week. I too have a long way to go towards balancing the real needs and desires of my body and the demands of my job, my avocation, my culture.
As as Christian, I believe in stewardship: the responsible management of the resources with which we have been entrusted. That refers to everything from recycling bottles and cans to tithing to the church to honoring our bodies' needs. We have a commandment to "rest" for a reason -- and there is perhaps no other commandment in the decalogue so easily ignored by folks of faith as that one! And it's not enough to rest one day a week. We honor our bodies when we allow ourselves to delight in food, sensuality, and yes, sleep and rest. I'm not advocating gluttony, promiscuity, or sloth. But I am advocating opting out of a culture that confuses the sin of sloth with the basic obligation to care for the bodies in which we are incarnate.
My students will survive, and probably be more than happy with a day off. The missed work can be made up. I can leave the computer, curl up on the couch with CNN and apple-cinammon tea, and maybe, if I'm up to it, do a little grading. Or not. Matilde the chinchilla is an expert at daytime resting. For the rest of the day, she shall be my muse.