In America, we tend to have a bit of an independent streak when it comes to handling sickness. I've gotten sick and then gotten better in Michigan plenty of times--usually without ever having to inform anyone. Minor colds and fevers and stomach flus are nothing worth alerting the troops about. At this point, it's a long-running joke that every single time that I leave Angel for an extended period of time (usually to visit my family), he manages to get himself quite ill--but he has always survived all by himself, just calling in to get his days off work and then camping out in our little farmhouse, drinking Sprite and eating crackers until he feels better (funnily enough, he never gets sick when we're together...).
There are very thoughtful people in the West who will bring dinner to their sick loved ones and check in on them regularly to make sure they're doing okay. I am not by nature one of those people, so when I hear that the flu is going around at a family member's house, I'm most likely to stay away until the germs are gone. Lots of times, one hears of communities banding together in the face of a tragic diagnosis, and I'm glad to know that the American value of living independently doesn't stretch too far, because in tough situations, the strength of community can be needed much more than total independence.
However, on this side of the world, any minor illness turns itself into a community event. Just ask my parents if they've ever had a sick child over the last decade without at the same time receiving all manner of visitors and gift baskets and remedies and inquiries for health status updates (Answer: No).
I had the bad timing to fall ill on a weekend when we had several events on the calendar--a lunch with friends and a birthday party for a coworker's child. I really wasn't feeling up to going, so I sent Angel alone with my apologies.
On Saturday alone, several friends offered to take me to the hospital (I didn't think I was feeling quite as bad as that!), and I was sent a salad, rice, cabbage, bananas, tomatoes, cake, and buns so that I would have all the nutrition I needed. The mother of the 10 year old birthday boy left her son's party to come to our apartment and check on me to make sure I was okay, and brought a traditional Chinese remedy with her to dose me with. She also made me swear to drink only hot water and not cold or iced water.
My invalid personality is one that prefers to recover in isolation. My cure for any random illness is a day or two of staying in and moaning on the couch, taking whatever over-the-counter medicines seem most appropriate. Usually I feel much better at the end of two days and am back to taking on the world. If I had a choice, I wouldn't ask for or encourage visitors because I don't want to be seen in my frumpy, sickly state.
But, man, how good these people are to us. We've only been here since August. We're totally the new guys. The outsiders. And yet, in a time of what was truly minor discomfort and very temporary helplessness, they show themselves instantly ready to take care of us in a way that to me seems to extend beyond the call of duty.
There's a lot I like about the way communities work in this part of the world. Here--they don't usually consider the option of just leaving someone alone for a couple days to recover from a common ailment. That whole independence, take care of yourself thing? It's a tad overrated. I think there can be a great deal of value in making a point to care for and help people even when, in all honesty, they are still perfectly capable of helping themselves. I was only a little sick, after all.
Next time, I hope I get a chance to at least comb my hair before someone drops by my sickbed, but I must say, it's a pretty cool thing to be loved this way. It's not because of anything that I am or have done, either. It's just that it's who they are.That's a powerful kind of love.