Glamorous Tuberculosis, Ghastly Cholera, Ordinary Stomach Bugs, and Extraordinary Grace

Tuberculosis seems to have been the disease of choice among 19th century artists and poets.

Yes, the sensitive, intelligent characters in novels and operas of that era always seem to succumb to that particular disease; it was even a bit ‘fashionable.’

As diseases go, it’s a glamorous one, or so suggests the professor in the delightful Open Yale course I recently listened to. It doesn’t cause you to lose control of your bowel functions, as in cholera, or cause your extremities to become gangrenous as in bubonic plague.

Tuberculosis, on the other hand, while every bit as serious and deadly, causes few visible (or odorous) symptoms–other than weight loss.

There’s even some scholarly speculation that ‘thinness’ as an ideal got its start in the Romantic era’s idealization of tubercular patients!

I don’t have any of those frightening diseases (though they still exist, usually taking the lives of people living in extreme poverty) but I’ve been sick with some nasty intestinal ailment the last few days.

Thanks to my dear husband & parents stepping in to help with the children, I’ve been able to get by, which has meant, ahem, just being ill and sleeping.

{And catching up on Downton Abbey in between.}

Spoiler Alert!

{Here’s poor Lavinia, about to die from influenza. And of course her couture nightgown is perfect, as is her hair and makeup. There’s no evidence of unwholesome bodily effluvia.}

Just for fun, I decided to take a picture of me, definitely not about to die, but definitely in the unattractive state of being that my friend Mr. Intestinal Microbe has put me in:

{I had to put it in black and white because “color” was just too scary. And “color” is in scare quotes because my face looks just as gray in both. Otherwise, yeah, that’s me right now. No lace. No makeup. Hair definitely not done. }

Online life–including blogging, social networking, etc.–can be kind of like that preference for tuberculosis over cholera, if you’ll pardon the sick analogy.

Certain kinds of icky are allowed; others are definitely not.

We like a certain measure of grittiness, of ‘reality,’ but, really, if you have to look upon an ill person, who wouldn’t rather see a tuberculosis patient than one with cholera? Glittering eyes, red cheeks, and thinness are comely in their way; uncontrollable diarrhea, not so much.

That’s understandable as far as it goes, I suppose, but golly, I want to get to the point already (and I bet you want me to, also) and the point is this:

Everyone needs to be loved even in the midst of their sickness and brokenness, whether literal, figurative, ‘glamorous,’ or gag-worthy.

Thank God, I suspect that’s just the kind of scandalous grace God extends to us.

{Now I’m going to drink some more fluids and take another nap.}

4 thoughts on “Glamorous Tuberculosis, Ghastly Cholera, Ordinary Stomach Bugs, and Extraordinary Grace

  1. An all-consuming interest in consumption (the 19th c. name for TB, right?) might have led to our fashion for thinness? Wow, didn’t know that. But it certainly sheds light on just how twisted society has become under the curse of the Fall.

    Speaking of twisted, I’m sorry your bowels are all in a knot. I hope you are up and running soon, Rachel. It sounds like your family is doing a great job of loving you in your unglamorous sickness, just as God loves us all in our unglamorousness. Nice job tying those together for us!


    1. P.S. I tried leaving another comment this morning on your Wendell Berry article, but it went to moderation instead of coming up right away. Hope I didn’t do snything wrong!

      1. really? looks like it went up right away…thanks for the comments as always, Tim!

  2. Good to see you back. You couldn’t fake being sick either by your picture. Sorry you had to go through that but you are fortunate to have a wonderful family who loves you dearly.

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