Opening Words from Sun. January 21 by Christine Politte

Hi. My name is Christine Politte, and my pronouns are she/her. I’ve been a member for about three months now, and I wanted to tell you a little about how I got here.

My story begins in the summer of 2018, the summer after my sophomore year of college. It was my first summer away from home, and I was living in the dorms at the University of Southern California, working two jobs and generally enjoying my freedom.

That is, until the pain started.

I didn’t have an accident or obvious injury. I just developed this mysterious ache in – of all places – my butt. At first, this lent itself to some great jokes. But then it got worse. Over the next few weeks, it became difficult to walk, stand, or even sit for more than a few minutes at a time.

I saw a doctor, but he couldn’t find anything wrong. So I saw a second doctor, and then a third. All the while, the pain got more and more intense, gradually spreading down my leg. It became impossible for me to attend classes or even to take care of myself. I had to leave school and move back home to my parents’ house in University City.

As a teenager, I ran three half-marathons. Now, at age 21, I was virtually bedridden. I was shuttled from doctor to doctor, subjected to an endless stream of tests and medications. At best, they did nothing; at worst, they made me sick.

My family did their best, but they had no idea how to support me, and most of my friends slowly drifted away. It’s not that they didn’t care – it’s just that the average 21-year-old, in their world of school and extracurriculars and parties, had no way to relate to what I was going through.

So I spent most of my days alone, lying on the blue plaid couch in my parents’ living room. A year passed without answers. For a while, I was afraid I was dying. And then I was afraid I wasn’t dying, and I’d be stuck on that couch for the rest of my life.

My life was devoid of school, work, relationships – everything that had given it meaning. And my faith in the world was profoundly shaken. I was raised an atheist; I always knew the world wasn’t fair, and good things don’t always happen to good people. But it’s one thing to know that intellectually; it’s another to experience it happening to you.

Fifteen months after this nightmare began, I found a physical therapist who could help me. Over the course of a few months, I regained the ability to sit and stand and walk, and I was finally able to return to school. But life didn’t go back to how it was before.

Partially, that’s because I didn’t fully recover. Things have never gotten as bad as they did that first year, but I still live at the mercy of flare-ups and relapses. Five years after this all started, I still struggle to walk more than ten minutes at a time. Full recovery is possible – it’s just been a challenge figuring out how to get there.

As I re-entered the world, my health wasn’t quite the same, and I wasn’t quite the same either. In the face of this experience, many of the things that used to give my life meaning no longer seemed so important. I wasn’t sure who I was or who I wanted to be. I struggled to make sense of my suffering, to reconcile my shock at the world’s cruelty with my joy at having, in many ways, a second chance at life.

These are the sorts of questions that lead many people to religion. But they led me to the Ethical Society.

I attended my first Platform in March 2022. Afterward, at coffee hour, I picked up my yellow mug and stood there awkwardly, and the first person to welcome me was Bryan Maynard. In the course of conversation, I told him a bit of this story. And suddenly I found myself deep in conversation with this stranger, talking about growing from pain and finding meaning in a world that is both beautiful and cruel.

That’s how I knew this place was special. All those questions I’d been mulling over – it turns out you all think about them too.

I know the Ethical Society is in a time of transition, and this community is different things to different people. To me, the Ethical Society is a place where I am welcome even when I am hurting, and even when I still have a lot to figure out. It’s a place where we don’t claim to have all the answers, but we can at least work together to ask better questions. It’s a community which has its fair share of growing to do. But it’s also a community of which I am honored to be a part.

Thank you.

NOTE: The ideas and opinions in this post do not necessarily express the thoughts or opinions of the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.