I have mixed feelings about fevers.
On the one hand, I hate the way they knock you out. I hate the pounding head pressure, the weakness, the chills and the sweats, the so-exhausted-but-can’t-sleep feeling, the fear of it getting worse.
But there is a special tenderness that comes with a fever. The warmth of my head radiating against the pillow feels a bit like the arms of a loved one.
Perhaps it is because it actually does remind me of arms. I am blessed to say that I have always been well taken care of in the midst of illness and the memories of love persist amidst the pain and uncomfortableness.
Of course, it doesn’t mean I welcome pain or illness. But when there’s nothing to be done about it you have a choice to see only the pain or to see something else in spite of it. You have the opportunity to recognize a miracle.
But we tend to focus on a different miracle. We tend to focus on the cure. And of course, the cure matters– the cure is definitely worth pursuing. I gave my baby Tylenol last night for his fever and I am taking all sorts of supplements and praying daily for miraculous and sudden healing of my ailments and those of many people dear to me.
But I think sometimes in our pursuit of cures we can forget that the thing a person in pain needs more than anything is our comfort and attention. They need solutions, but they really need our love. That’s the miracle they need more than anything– love in spite of pain–and it’s a miracle we can be a part of.
And perhaps that is obvious, but I know I have to be reminded. I cannot prevent my baby from ever having any pain but I can give him memories of warm arms during illness. I can give him memories of love amidst pain.
Children’s hospitals understand this well. I wish I could go to a children’s hospital for myself. There is a cheeriness amidst all the fear and sadness. The whole system seems covered in joy and hope, and I suppose that it is because it is so particularly difficult to reconcile the philosophical connotations of seeing a child suffer. It’s on the walls. It’s in the voices of the nurses and the doctors. The TV screens play Cinderella instead of the depressing news you would see in an adult hospital. Children’s hospitals know the truth about pain: that they can’t always make it go away, that they can’t always deliver cures. But they also know the miracle: that they can always deliver love.
And this is the miracle of Christmas. I always wonder why the image of that Baby in the manger arouses in me so much intense tenderness. Is it mere association with happy childhood memories? Perhaps. But I think it is also because it is real confirmation of the miracle: that love can be born anywhere, and that it can bring light to any situation.
For me, it almost even answers that unanswerable question– you know– that, why does God allow pain? It comes up in my head often and causes distress, but when I think of Christmas I feel I can actually face it. When I think of the fever arms I can face the pain. I can handle not knowing “why”– I can handle that God might give us no answer, knowing that God gives us something better than an answer. The Christmas God says, I know you suffer and I wish you didn’t. But I’m here with you. I’m here in the hay and the smell and the cold– here in the fever and the labor and the hunger– I’m here to suffer with you, but most of all I’m here to love you. I bring you love– a love you can take for yourself and you can bring it to other people.
So this Christmas I try to wrap my baby, feverish and cranky and tired– I try to wrap him in the miracle. I wrap him in what, I hope, will be his memory of fever arms. So one day when he’s sick again he can remember them– remember them like I remember– like we all remember somewhere in our lives, in the history of the world, that amidst the low and base and sad and painful, Love is born.