I remember the story of Giles Corey, the husband of Martha Corey, who had been accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials. When Giles refused to renounce Satan and admit that he’d cavorted with beings of black magic, he was subjected to pressing in an effort to force the “truth” from him. Pressing was a barbaric method of execution where they placed increasingly heavy rocks on the accused until they pled guilty to their crime or died of fatal suffocation. The French called it Peine forte et dure—hard and forceful punishment. I remember my history teacher, with his limited imagination, trying to describe the process of being pressed to death. The feeling of the air being driven from your lungs by the immovable weight perched atop your chest. The panic as you struggled to draw in a deeper breath and realized that your chest, your lungs, were not strong enough. The gasping, dry-mouth as your futile efforts amounted to nothing more than a wisp—enough to keep you alive, though few would call it living. And then, another stone pushing you that much closer to death.
The past few weeks have been difficult. I spent the last couple of months working my ass off on my goal to lose weight and become healthy again, only to be sidelined by hernias, which will keep me from running for longer than it took me to actually lose the weight. My day job has become increasingly more demanding, making it more difficult for me to write. I planned for my move and now I can’t lift any of the boxes or even do much to help pack them. My finances have taken a hit as I’ve got to pay for the upcoming move (which requires movers since I can’t lift anything), had to pay for the surgery, and had my payroll company screw up my paycheck. I got jury duty. My dog needs dental work. I need dental work. My house is a mess. I realized this weekend that the book I’ve been working on for three months just isn’t working and needs drastic help.
Life, it seems, insists on testing me. And with nothing to do but lay on the couch watching bad movies, my troubles rose up from the swamp of my mind—a miasma of failure and fear—becoming tangible. Stones that fell across my chest, each one heavier than the last. A stone for my dwindling bank account, a stone for my crappy book, a stone for the movers, a stone for my hernias… In those moments, I thought about the last agonizing hours of Giles Corey. How he struggled to breathe under all those rocks. And I felt so alone. Just me and Giles buried under all these stones.
Except, these rocks on my chest, these troubles aren’t going to kill me. I’m going to recover from my surgeries and get back to running…and this time I’m going to run farther than before. It might be tight, but the financial squeeze will pass, and I’ll be living in a beautiful new condo with Matt and Chewie. My book might feel hopeless now, but I’m going to fix it, and it will be better than before. My job might be hectic now, but at least I have a job. These stones are heavy, sometimes so heavy that I can barely breathe, but they won’t kill me, not if I don’t let them.
The thing about Giles Corey is that he didn’t give up. He said to his executioners the same thing that we must all learn to say to life: