The following journal entry from Uganda on June 26, 2016, recounts an episode I had of severe gut pain. In retrospect, the experience makes three things clear: 1) after years of high chronic stress, my immune system was weak and my resultant bouts of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) were getting more frequent and more severe, 2) my #1 go-to strategy for dealing with pain is to check out of my body and lose myself in a painless mental world of my own creation, and 3) some things you cannot feel in pleasure can only be felt in pain:
I lost an entire day of my life.
Friday afternoon I lifted weights at the country club, and then the B’s came over there to hang out with us before they flew to America. In the dining area, I had a cup of tea and a light snack while A and I talked about music we liked. It wasn’t until I got home that my gut started to feel uncomfortable.
By the time we went to bed at 10:30, my gut hurt but not enough to keep me from falling asleep. But then I woke up at 12:23 from the now much worse pain. And so began eighteen hours of utter misery. It felt like what I’ve had twice already this year: stabbing pain just below my stomach. Yet this was different too. You know how it feels when you need to pee and have been sleeping on your bladder – you can feel the shape and location of the bladder because of the pain. That is how my whole intestines felt. They were inflamed by something and cramping terribly. I spent the rest of the night in the guest bedroom, watching movies, writhing around, constantly shifting because no position provided relief. I had fever with chills.
Like the other two times this has happened, I thought I just needed to pass the offending substances, so I took a laxative and prayed for it to work. I had my first bout of diarrhea around 3:00 – no relief. The second bout came around 5:00 – still no relief. The sun came up, and I was still doubled over in agony. Later I shifted to our bedroom where I stayed in bed till 6:00 p.m. The one thing that helped me sleep from 2-5 p.m. was Tylenol. Seeing that it was more than food poisoning, I took a dose of antibiotics mid-morning, but that brought no relief either.
While Amber was gone playing tennis, it occurred to me that this could be malaria. So I told her that, and she came and picked me up and took me to the hospital to get tested. It came back negative. It looks like I have a virus, a stomach flu of some sort.
It’s 5:30 Sunday morning now. I slept about seven hours but woke up with a splitting headache and nausea.
Let me tell you, Friday night and Saturday were hellish. That stabbing pain never relented for eighteen hours straight. By yesterday morning I was so worn down from it all that I started crying.
One wonders what the cause of all this is. Friday night, when I came down with this sickness, was when we handed our new visa application to the B’s [after the first had been rejected after months of waiting], making the timing of this suspect. The other thing is that yesterday I really, really needed to make progress writing on my grammar sketch. My new deadline is Thursday, and now that I’ve lost the last two days, I don’t know how I am going to make it. It will be embarrassing to have to ask for another extension [from the publisher], but that might just be what I’ve got to do.
While I was in the throes yesterday morning, I had a little conversation with myself, or God, or someone. We talked about my destiny, about being true to myself. The message was clear: I am a linguist. I think I’ve been trying to be too poetic, too literary, too…whatever while writing this dictionary. But it’s when I’m describing a language clearly and simply that I’m in my grove. I learn a language and explain its phonetics, phonology, morphology, and basic syntax. That’s what I do. I learn a language’s basic grammar, its ‘first principles’. I don’t grapple with the complexities below the level of articulatory phonetics, nor the complexities of discourse, sociolinguistics, literature, etc. – the higher levels. Nor do I work out the practical implementations of grammar: literacy, education, translation, etc.
A little over a year ago, I had the revelation that I should let go of Bible translation and stick to straight descriptive linguistics. Now I have insight into what kind of linguist I am: one who describes the central systems and subsystems of a language – the basic meaningful levels.
In my stricken delirium these long hours, my thoughts then turned to the intellectual horizon. Just as my gift is to learn the basic meaningful systems of a human language, I will also seek to learn the basic grammar of reality. It’s how my mind works. I will seek to get a grasp of the underlying first principles of all the systems below the level of human language: quantum physics, atomic physics, chemistry, molecular biology, genetics, evolutionary biology, biological anthropology. I will get familiar with ideas like holarchy, emergence theory, complex systems theory, information theory, biological structuralism, intelligent design, biosemiotics, etc., to see if I can nail down some kind of basic ‘grammar’ of the cosmos – the λóγος of John 1:1. Then, for the time being, I will not be overly concerned with levels of complexity above the human language faculty, such areas as economics, politics, sociology, etc., and I will not be concerned about the practical applications of my theory. If, at some point, God wants me to get broader or more practical in my writing about Icétôd [the Ik language] or the Logos, then so be it.