I believe in opiates.
Usually, I prefer the natural kind. Hours after a run, I still find myself smiling bemusedly as I load groceries into my cart. Willie Nelson’s voice comes out of my car stereo as if its aloft on a stream of warm sunshine. The day couldn’t be more perfect, and my worries about money, work, and love are far, far away.
I love endorphins. How else could I feel this way? When I don’t run, I get cranky, down, and foul. I wonder why I’m not more witty, more well-respected, or skinnier. When I do manage to chase my dog in a loop around town, I no longer care about any of that. I remember that life is about trying to stay alive so you can make it to the next chilly night when you can huddle under heavy warm blankets…to the next afternoon when you can dance around your house — embarrassing your kids, but getting them to smile…to the next time you can spend time with the people that you truly love.
I do prefer endorphins to any other kind of opiate. Endorphins represent health and hope and balance. I have absolutely no love for heroin or opium or any other kind of drug which is used illegally and tragically. I’ve been teaching fifteen years and I’ve already been to too many funerals of beautiful young children who thought that heroin sounded “fun.” I don’t know how to stop my students from using, except to be at my classroom door, every morning, saying hello, looking them in the eye, and smiling. That’s my very humble way of telling them that I love them and I want to see them every day.
But, I brook no argument with morphine. One camping trip, my friend’s four year-old son fell into the campfire and suffered third degree burns on his hands. After a frantic, crazed drive to the nearest rural hospital, one shot of morphine turned a shrieking, horrified child into a docile little wonderbug who kept saying, “Boo” to the nurses. I was grateful for the gift of morphine, ready to prostrate myself at the feet of a shrine to whoever first decided it would be good to mass produce it so that it could be readily available at at hospital in the middle of nowhere.
And, I’ve seen morphine in its most wondrous form — as a balm to soothe the suffering of dying men. One man was my father-in-law and the other was my stepfather. One died of heart failure, his chest racked by horrendous breaths that were too weak to force oxygen past the fluid filling his lungs. The other died of cancer and Parkinson’s disease. Both deaths were beautiful in that the men were greeted in their final days by everyone they had ever loved. Friends and family held their hands, stroked their foreheads, and told them it was okay to go. Neither man was afraid of dying. Each was more afraid of living in pain. Morphine gave them peace. For that, I am eternally grateful.
I believe that men and women who have the ability should plumb the depths of the natural world and bring whatever they can to the marketplace. Opiates, first, and then what else can we find? What other heavenly gifts exist in our bodies and our environment that we can somehow isolate, enhance, and enjoy? Somebody, somewhere decided that poppy flowers looked good enough to eat. What else is out there that we can discover? develop? delight in? I hope that there is a great deal.
I’ll keep running so I can have my endorphin buzz at the grocery store, and I will praise man, Heaven, and science for the gift of morphine if its ever my turn to need it.
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