What 'Interstellar' Taught Me About Living With Crohn's Disease
*written in 2015, pre-VNS
We are given a finite amount of time to breathe on this planet.
In an infinite universe that stretches across never-ending space filled with stars and nothingness, we are assured of one thing: one day, we will cease to exist – like a star that has outlived its shine and propels into blackness as we look up into the vastness with our telescopes and make a wish on its death. We smile and point as the flash of our long-lost relative in the sky takes its last flight; something in our carbon, oxygen and nitrogen make-up becomes enlivened by our twinkling twin taking her last breath.
We don’t do that when the beings we love on this earth perish.
We know that although time is relative and can be stretched and squeezed in the vastness of the universe light years away from where we exist, on this star that we exist on, it is finite. We celebrate shooting stars that happened years ago, but we can just see now, on this little blue dot, where time starts and stops when our hearts do — and all that really matters is how we spend our time in between those moments.
If you haven’t assumed by now, I watched “Interstellar” last night, so obviously, as a college grad with no background in science whatsoever, I now understand the field of physics and could easily submit my resume to NASA. I’m sure my background of analyzing Shakespeare with 14-year-olds will serve my colleagues at the space station well.
As Cooper and Brand explore another dimension by way of a wormhole, time passes more slowly for them, especially when they land on Miller’s planet, where an hour there is seven years on Earth, or Mann’s planet, where a day is 67 hours long followed by 67 hours of night. How often we have all quipped what we would do if there were more hours in a day. You see, we humans are in a rush. We’re in a rush to get to work. To make dinner. To have children. To get the house clean. We’re in a rush to get to that place where we’ll finally be content. And in the end, we learn that we’ve rushed to death. And in those final moments, we realize that all of the rushing was such a waste of time — and as we look back, we realize that our finite time on earth can’t be sent through a wormhole to stretch and squeeze, but can only be recorded in the memories we leave behind — the time travel of our loved ones will happen only when they close their eyes to dream of the idiosyncrasies of our former selves.
The mission that Cooper and Brand set out to do is testament of the invincible nature of the human spirit. They understand the gravity of their decisions to leave, but it is not until they are up in the darkness, realizing that they may never come home, that time catches up with them. They are paralyzed in the slow, seemingly infinite amount of time in another dimension, and when they return, all of a sudden they are propelled into the finite nature of the planet. Their loved ones have aged, and while in the darkness searching for salvation, they have ceased to really live.
Those of us living with chronic conditions have a funny concept of time. We go through the motions, from appointments to lab work to alternative therapies to bed when it’s just not happening today – and rinse and repeat. Then all of a sudden, we have these moments that stop us in our tracks. A realization hits, generally (for me) followed by a full-body sob that starts in the immobilization of my feet, works its way up to my throat, and exits through my wide open-mouth cry, swelling my face and drowning my eyes with tears that can’t be tamed with tissues or comforting words.
In those moments of desperation, I realize how much time has passed since normalcy, what life has been missed out on as the world has kept spinning at its own pace and loved ones with good intentions have carried on with their own rush.
Crohn’s disease has been my other dimension. My “Miller’s Planet.” My place where I have aged internally, but externally still appear young. For the last 14 years of my life, decisions have revolved around the complexity of my dimension. I have sat in my mind and rationalized solutions — my spaceship’s auto-docking mechanism has malfunctioned several times, and I’ve searched and searched for ways to manually force it into cooperating. I’ve chased the station as it spins out of orbit, forcing my ship to attempt to spin at equal speed, and meet up and join the thing that will bring it optimal health, and dare I say, normalcy.
While I’ve done that, time has passed. I’ve emerged out of the wormhole just long enough to take a peak before I have to go back in to work on my ship, and I looked out into the world. I caught a glimpse of what I’ve missed, and it shook me. It stopped all waves of my internal communication that moves towards solutions, and left me on the couch with a bowl of dairy-free cookies and cream ice cream with Oreos crushed up on top, followed by a long period of staring at the wall, paralyzed in my husband’s arms. Tell me what you’re thinking at this moment, he pled. There weren’t words; there was just a painful realization that couldn’t be articulated. And it was all centered around time. Dr. Brand articulates this painful fear perfectly when he states, “I’m not afraid of death; I’m an old physicist — I’m afraid of time.”
I am not an old physicist, yet I too am petrified of time.
Yet the one constant that I know to be true, that has traveled through my dimension, co-piloted my malfunctioning ship, and willingly become lost in the wormhole, is love — and like Brand says, that is the only thing we’re able to perceive regardless of time and space. When I become hyper-aware of the finiteness of existence, I have an anchor to remind me of this, and to him, I am infinitely grateful and in love.
We go through this life with invincible, rushed force that time is on our side and will bend and stretch when we need it to. It won’t. But you have a decision today to decide how to spend the time that you have, and the levels of awareness you are willing to tap into in order to focus on what the purpose is of your time here. And I hope when you emerge through the wormhole of your dimension, you find peace and satisfaction.
*originally published on The Mighty