Soul’s Guardian

“Mom, I don’t know how to say this, but…”  I was tucking my ten-year-old son into bed.

“Go ahead.”

“Well, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but you know how if there is a sale on at Eaton’s, you want to get there early.”

“Yes?”  I wasn’t sure where this conversation was going.

“You want to get there early because the best stuff gets picked over first, right?”

“I suppose so.”

“Well, no offense, but you’re not getting any younger.”

“What are you on about?”

“Maybe you need to get out there before all the good ones are picked over.”

“Are you saying I should start dating?”

He nodded solemnly.

“Well, I’ll give it some thought.”  It had been over six months since his father and I had separated, and dating was the furthest thing from my mind, but there was wisdom in those words.  Still shattered from the unexpected end of a seventeen year relationship, I coped by going to bed early every night, and staying away from people.  My son was probably right – avoiding life was not the answer – life was passing me by.

‘Obi-Wan Kenobe’, one of my friends called my son.  From an early age, he has had an uncanny wisdom, well beyond his years.  He’s my soul’s guardian.

(Image from: www.kidscreativechaos.com)

Lifelines

The forest is thick with the smell of new leaves, tinged with the lingering winter musk.  The trees here stretch endlessly upwards, their trunks a testimony to the timelessness of the place.  Rays of warm sunlight reach downwards, creating pockets of warm glow.  The soft moss and dry earth beneath my feet cushion my steps.  Birdsong fills the air, adding to the aura of enchantment.  I come here to meditate.  This is my oasis:  a calm, nurturing retreat where I can find renewal.  I breathe deeply and allow all my senses to revel in the beauty.   A crackling of twigs alerts me to the presence of another.  A horse and rider come into my line of vision and stop.  The young man’s eyes meet mine, and there is a rush of recognition.  He is young, maybe mid twenties, with thick dark hair, and dark eyes.  I feel that I have known him many lifetimes, and that ours has been a relationship of deep and abiding love.  “I am coming back to you,” is all he says, and I feel my heart leap with joy. 

The unexpected vision and accompanying emotional surge forces me back to consciousness.  The meditation had been so deep and relaxing that it find it hard to shake off the drowsiness.  It was so real.  I open my eyes to find my friend, Sam looking at me.  “It’s a boy!”  I blurt out.  “You’re going to have a boy!”

I was right about the boy, but the message was not for my friend who was so desperately hoping for a child.  It was for me, who although I thought I was finished my childbearing, was about to discover myself pregnant again.  My dark haired, brown-eyed boy was born the next fall.

Mothers know that there is an unseen cord of consciousness that runs between them and their children.  It is first experienced when they wake up seconds before their sleeping baby.  Or maybe earlier, in the dream time.

Children As Mirrors

When I think of my grandchildren – one now six months, and one on the way – my heart swells and tears fill my eyes; I love them so much.  I hope that I have extolled upon my daughters that children are a blessing to be cherished.

One thing I can tell them is that children will be their greatest teachers.  Honest, straightforward, and ever curious, children will tell it like it is, question inequities, and challenge everything.  Like little parrots, children repeat what they hear, and mimic gestures and behaviours.  They will also reflect the good, the bad, and the ugly.

My moment of revelation about how intrinsically linked mothers and children are came when performing therapeutic touch on the mother of a boy with severe autism.  His constant spinning and screaming was a source of anxiety for the young mother seeking my help.  She had hoped I could calm him, however; he was not receptive to staying still, so I offered her a treatment instead.  Amazingly, as soon as the mother began to relax, so too did her son.

All the way home, I thought of my own children, and questioned how many times their anxiety or distress was merely a reflection of my own emotional imbalance.  Over time, I had to admit there was a definite link.  If I would return home tired and distraught, that would be the time my children were acting up.  If I was feeling happy and positive, the children would reflect that back.

In therapeutic touch we have an analogy that the therapist is like a tuning fork:  when s/he is centered and grounded then the client can follow suit.  The same goes for children.

Another way of looking at this, is that children are mirrors for their parents.  When my oldest, Marie, is being impulsive, she is reflecting my own tendencies.  When Ester is feeling anxious, or John is burdened by being overly introspective, they are exhibiting the very traits I myself struggle with.  The challenge for me, as parent, is to a) take ownership of my shortcomings, and b) work to heal them so that my children can do the same.

Children are teachers because they offer us the opportunity and the incentive to become better people.

Grandchildren teach us how to fall in love all over again.

I’m so glad I enrolled in the school of parenting!

Conned

The man across from me was weathered and tanned, with a dark mop of curls, and shocking blue eyes.  “What bothers me most,” he was saying, “is spouses that cheat.  It’s the worst thing you can do to another person.”  I was warming up to him rapidly.

“What happened to you?”  I asked.  No ring.  New to town.

“Girlfriend decided it wasn’t working for her.  Threw me out.  We had a business together too.  I lost everything.”

“I can relate to that.”

We began to see each other.  It was a bit unnerving for me, this dating thing.  I felt like an adolescent all over again, swept up in an emotional whirlwind.

“I feel so vulnerable,”  I told him.

“Give it time,”  he responded.  “Don’t rush anything.”

Good answer, I thought.  He seemed so much more self-assured than me.

I noticed that I was becoming distracted, and forgetful.  I forgot to return phone calls, and missed appointments.  My bank book showed me making more withdrawals then I remembered.   I misplaced a paycheck.  I started to feel out of control.  When I told him, he suggested we slow down, take some time.  I trusted his judgment.

One lazy afternoon, he fell asleep on the sofa while I was doing my laundry.  His gym bag was in the hall, and I thought I would offer to wash his things with mine.  Not wanting to wake him, I opened his bag to remove the dirty clothes.  On top was his wallet.  I don’t know what possessed me, but I opened it.  His driver’s license checked out…his health card…..debit…..credit….the same as mine…..they were mine!  My cards were in his wallet!

Removing the cards, I put the wallet back.  A friend of mine was RCMP.  I called him from an upstairs phone and gave him the name and birth date.  He called back and said there was nothing in the files.   I was afraid.  I didn’t want to confront him alone.  I decided to wait until he was gone.

Checking with the bank, the credit card company, and my employer, I found out that he had been using my cards all along, and cashed my paycheck using my identification.  I called the police.

While he may not have had a record with the feds, he was wanted on dozens of charges with the police.  Once I reported, former girlfriends called with similar stories.  I felt so foolish.  The officer assured me that this happens to nice people all the time.  Con men count on good people like me to be unsuspecting.  I was an easy target.

I don’t know who I felt more victimized by, him or me.  I chastised myself for being so stupid.  What was I thinking?  I felt sickened, and full of shame.  But, more than all that I needed to take stock of my history with relationships.    My track record was poor.  By all accounts life had taught me not to trust in love.  Giving up seemed the only sensible option.

Yet, closing my heart seemed so cold and final.  Surely, this was not God’s intent.  I needed to look at this from a different perspective.

“Your picker is broken,”  a friend told me.  “Until you fix it, it’s not safe for you to love.”

She was right.  I had no discernment.  Loving in nature, I always look for the best in others.  I forget to watch out for red flags.

Closing my heart was not the solution, but guarding it responsibly was.

(Image: acountryroseflorist.blogspot.com)

Learning About Death

Taylor was diagnosed with lung cancer at the age of twenty-one. Although he never smoked a day in his life, his father’s family were heavy smokers, and he suffered for it.  He was my cousin Lynn’s only son.

I belonged to a weekly meditation circle at the time, and Taylor, who was studying to be a physicist, asked if he could join.  I told him that we not only meditated, but liked to explore the realm of intuition as well, and he said that was fine with him.  So week after week, Taylor would join in and add his scientific musings to our experience.  He told me that while he was skeptical, he was sure physics was going to bridge the gap between the rational world and the irrational.  He said that I needed to involve myself in research, if I was ever to prove the existence of anything beyond the accepted norm.  I would laugh and tell him that I was a Literature major, and research was outside my norm.

Taylor’s bald head, and limping figure became a fixture at our weekly meetings, and we all came to love his gentle banter.  Unwilling to accept anything at face value, he brought a healthy balance of skepticism to our circle.

Then one evening, he did not attend. Nor the next.

His mother called me.  “Taylor is in the hospital, and they think he has three more weeks to live.  He is asking for you.”

He was asleep when I entered the room.  His girlfriend greeted me and told me that he slept most of the time, but that if I could wait he would wake up.  She excused herself and left us alone.

Taylor’s body look so fragile and boyish lying in that bed.  An oxygen mask covered his face, so that only his closed eyelids could be seen.  His head was still bald, and he looked more like an infant than the young man I had come to know.  At this point in my life, I had not been this close to death, and I wasn’t sure what to say.

Taylor’s eyes opened and I saw him register my presence.

“Hey, Tay!”  I tried to sound cheerful, compassionate.

He reached up and pulled the oxygen mask down.  “Thanks for coming.”

“No problem.”

“I asked you to come, because I want to talk about what’s happening to me.”  His words were laboured.  I could see it was an effort for him to talk.

“Okay,”  I began.  “Are you sure it won’t be too much for you?  Are you okay without the mask?”

“Oh, yes.  It just keeps me comfortable.”  He replaced the mask and took a few breaths.  “I fall asleep a lot.  Even mid-sentence.”

“That’s okay,” I reassured him.  “I’ll just wait.”

“Thank you,” and he was gone again, sleeping behind the mask.

I looked around.  The room was spacious with a large picture window overlooking the southwest part of the city.  A recliner sat in the corner by the window, and several other chairs allowed for many visitors.  The blue walls reminded me of the night sky just as the last rays of light are vanishing:  a blue tinged with indigo.  So this is where people came to die.

“I want to talk about my dreams.”   I understood now why he had invited me.  I had enrolled in a course at the university that explored the meaning of dreams.  It was actually a religious studies class, and examined how God speaks to us through our dream messages.  “Everyone else wants to talk about things that have no meaning for me anymore, like getting their cars fixed, or the weather.  I don’t have time for small talk.”

He closed his eyes again.  I waited.

“I have been dreaming about horses.”

“Interesting.  Horses were the original mode of transportation, so they are seen symbolically as the vehicles that transport us from one realm to another.  Apparently horse dreams are common at the end of life.”

He nodded.  “Sometimes I can’t tell if I am dreaming or it’s real.”

“What do you mean?”

“I am so emotional.  I can’t seem to turn it off.”  I had to smile.  My highly rational, intellectual cousin not being able to control his emotions.

“Well, I’m no expert, but I’m going to guess you are going through one hell of an emotional time.”

His eyes met mine and we both laughed.  “You’re right about that.”

We both fell silent.

* * * * *

Our visits became a daily occurrence, but I never stayed long as it tired him too much.  We talked about his dreams, his emotions, and as it got closer to the end, we talked about his fears.

“I’m not sure if I’m actually dreaming,”  he told me one day.  “More and more I feel like what I am experiencing is real.”

“Describe it to me.”

The silences were growing longer.  Speaking, or even staying awake, seemed to take great effort now.  I would hold his hand to let him know I was still with him.  I felt such reverence towards my young cousin for letting me share these moments with him.

“I see figures.  Grey figures.”

“Do you know who they are?”

His eyes stared, unfocused, into the space before him.  “No.  Can’t really say they are people.”

I pondered this revelation while he rested. I thought back to a story my mother told me about my birth.  During my delivery, she suddenly lost physical consciousness, and found herself, disembodied, floating above the delivery table.  She said she saw her father beside her reaching out his hand, and as she went to take it, she realized what was happening and pulled back, being jolted back into her body and the labour pains.  She claims that she had refused death in that moment, and remembers telling her father that she had five babies to look after and couldn’t go with him.

Taylor’s eyes were open again.  “What if the figures that you see are here to escort you to the other side?”  I asked.  “How do they make you feel?”

“Afraid.”

“Maybe your fear is what is clouding your ability to see them.”

He didn’t wake up again that visit.

* * * * *

The next day I arrived at the hospital later than usual.  Taylor’s mom met me in the hallway.  “He’s gone.  He tried to wait for you, but didn’t make it.  He did leave a message for you, though.  I don’t know what it means, but he said to tell you that you were right, that all came out clear in the end, and not to worry about him.”

As I hugged her in condolence, I thought my heart was going to burst.

In his short life, this beautiful young man shared so much with me:  his theories and questions, his deepest vulnerabilities, and his experience of the beyond.   Together, were we able to strip away all the noise and distractions of everyday life to touch something much more sacred and real.

 

 

 

 

Saying Goodbye To Father

My father fought against death at the end, even though he was wracked with pain,  had difficulty breathing, and spent many of his nights in hospital.

“At what point do we stop all this intervention, Dad, and talk about keeping you comfortable?”

It was the early hours of the morning after another night spent in emergency.

“Now,”  his voice cracked as he spoke.  Dad was so clearly in distress it was alarming.  Involuntary spasms of pain kept him from resting, and the strain was telling on his ashen face.

I took his hand in mine.  “Dad, all I want for you is peace,”  I hesitated.  “To be honest with you, Dad, I have never known you to have peace in your life.”

He squeezed my hand.   “Not a lot.”

“Do you believe that there is something for you on the other side, Dad?”

“I don’t know, Honey.  I don’t have the faith that you do.  I don’t know what to believe.”

“Some say that our feeling about God is related to our relationship with our own father.”

“How so?”

“When you were a boy, huddled in the coat closet, hiding from your father, what were your thoughts?  Did you ever think about God in those moments?”

“All the time.”  My father closed his eyes and laid back.  “I remember asking God over and over, what I did wrong to deserve the beatings.  I thought  God was punishing me.”

“Exactly, Dad.  Maybe your fear of death is because the little boy in you thinks God will reject you, or inflict more pain.”

He opened his eyes and looked at me.  “You could be right.  I know I’m afraid.”

“God didn’t punish you, Dad.  Your father did.  I have to believe there is something better awaiting you.”

He closed his eyes again, processing what I suggested.  “You were a child, Dad.  It wasn’t your fault.  You need to forgive yourself.”   A tear trickled down his cheek.

We didn’t talk about it further, but we did speak to the doctor on duty about changing Dad’s care.  Plans were made to transfer my father to palliative care.  The day he was to be moved, my father announced that he didn’t want any visitors.  He said he needed time to settle in.  They moved him mid-morning.  He died within hours.  I rushed to his side, but it was too late.

“Good for you, Dad,” I cried.  “You finally made it.”

 

Contemplation of Inner Lives

Wasn’t it Carl Jung who said that each of us has a cast of thousands within our psyche? What if I could meet with my inner personas, envision a way for us to all get along?

I am reminded of a recurring dream I have had about an underground cave full of people, through which I try to maneuver. I picture the cave to help me imagine my inner selves.  The space is roomy,  with high ceilings, and a fire that lightens the scene.  There is an underground body of water around which people are gathered.  It is crowded in here.  I visually push the crowd back, clearing a space in the light.

“Listen up troops!  This is ego talking.  Can we have a meeting?”

Who will come forward?

A small figure steps into the clearing.  She looks to be about three or four years old.  Dark curls of hair fall in disarray about her shoulders.  Dragging a stuffed animal by her side, she rubs her big, brown eyes with her free hand, as if just waking up from a deep sleep.

“Hello, Little One.  Welcome.”  I am delighted both by her innocence, and her bravery for being the first to step up.

Out of the corner of my eye, I catch more movement.  It is a twelve-year-old version of myself, who steps in to take the little one’s hand.  Ah, responsible me.  I know her well.

An older woman steps in next.  She is well-groomed, neat and trim.  Her hair is white, and obviously long, but caught up in a bun.  Her face is long; not my face.  I don’t know her.

“Welcome,”  I say and she nods approvingly.

“Anyone else?”

A pregnant version of myself steps forward.  Not the new mother me, but the woman expecting her third child.  The established mother.  She looks tired, but not unkind.  She has brought her babies with her.

A shadow darts across the opening, then fades back into the dark corners of the cave.  I try to see where it went and see a figure trembling there in the darkened crevices.

“Would you like to join us?”   The figure is slightly hunched, hugging herself tightly.  “Please.”  The others reach out their hands towards her.  She moves to the edge of the darkness.  Her long hair looks tangled, dirty.  Her eyes are cast down, I can’t see her face.  It looks like she is holding a blanket around her.  “If you are here, you are part of us,”  I offer.  “We’d like it if you’d join us.”  She looks up and it startles me.  The pain in her eyes it so real my breath sticks in my chest.  She steps forward and I see she is naked under the blanket.  She is my violated self.  “I’m sorry,” I whisper.  “Please come into the light.  I want you here.”  The others move to surround her.

The shadow darts again.  Is that a little boy?  I follow the movement.  There is a tall, proud, Aboriginal woman.  She is wearing some ceremonial costume, although nothing I recognize.  She steps silently forward.  I like her energy. Then three figures push out of the crowd to join in.  They too are of different ethnicity and race.  Arms locked like old friends they are laughing and jostling; a happy presence.  Another woman pushes forward, directing a young boy before her – the darting shadow.  He has a dishevelled mop of hair, and dark mischievous eyes, reminding of pictures of my father as a child.  She is a big bear of a woman, very motherly, and obviously very much in control.

There’s a boy here?  Are there any men? I wonder. I look around.  Many faces still stand on the periphery, and yes some are men, but none have come forth….oh, wait a minute, here’s one.  A whiff of pipe smoke hits me first.  Very professorial.  Tall, thin, with greying hair, and kind eyes.  A thinker, I’m guessing.  Another young man steps forward.  Dressed immaculately, and carrying a case, he looks driven by ambition: fearless.

“Okay,”  I say.  “It looks like we could do this all night, but we need to begin.  Can we get started?”

The big bear of a woman steps forward, with the little boy in tow.  “The goal here is to find some harmony,” she states.  “I think it would best if everyone could be heard.  State your concerns, and also what you bring to the whole.  I’ll start.  I am Mother Earth.  I believe in the unity of the whole, and am big and strong enough to hold us all together.”

Cool!  I am liking this exercise.

The white-haired woman is next.  “Well, I am wisdom, and I believe this can work also, but I am a little concerned about how ego is running the ship.”  She looks directly at me.  “We won’t live forever, you know; be a little mindful of how you take care of our body.  Some exercise would go a long way.”  I gulp.  Yes ma’am, I’m thinking.

“What do you have to offer?” Mother Earth asks.

“Perspective,” is the response.  “When the ego needs direction, and is willing to listen, I offer perspective.”

“Thank you,” I say.  “Good to know.”

The professor tilts his pipe towards me.  “Don’t forget intellect.  You have a good mind.  Use it.  No concerns right now, as long as she keeps learning.”  Fair enough.

My mother self just beams at me.  She is happy that the babies are still coming.

The twelve-year-old, still coddling the little one, gets my attention.  “Don’t forget us,” she says.

“What do you mean?”  I ask.  “How could I forget you?”

“But you do.  You often do.  We need care too.  We need fun and new discoveries, and most of all we need love and affection.  Well, not so much me, but the little one does.”

I have to smile, because I’m sure she means both of them.  “Of course you do.  Don’t I show it?”

“Not very often.  You spend far too much time worrying about the future, and where the next dollar is coming from.  You forget that we need attention and just to hang out sometimes.”

The little one nods, as if she understands.  She puts out her arms and I hug her to me.  She is so tiny, and pure.  “You are precious,” I tell her.  “I would never want to lose you.”  She snuggles up and leans into me.  I offer my hand to the twelve-year-old.  “I would like for you to let me be the adult,” I tell her.  “I appreciate everything you have done, you have a great sense of duty, but you also need to just be a kid.”   The look she gives me is undecipherable. I look to Mother Earth for some direction.  She nods at the younger me.

“Go ahead,”  she says.  “Tell her.”

“You have made promises to us that you do not keep.  We don’t know what to believe.  Little One needs to feel safe and secure, she needs you to be consistent.”

“What about you?  What do you need?”

Her lip starts to tremble.  Is that a flicker of anger I see behind her eyes.

“You can tell me.”  I try to keep my tone calm, and reassuring, but my heart and mind are racing.  “What have I done to this child?  Then I understand.  “Are you angry with me, or adults in general?”  I ask.  “I know you’ve been hurt by many.”

“I don’t know who to trust,”  she begins.  “I try and try to be good and make things better, but it’s like I don’t exist.  It’s unfair.”  The floodgates burst open.  “I feel like I don’t matter.  No one notices me.  No one cares.”  The little one runs to her and they hug again.  “We need to know you care.”

“But I do care!  Maybe I just don’t know how to show it.  Please, help me to understand what you need.”

“When you were us you knew what you wanted.  You promised that you would not put up with injustices, and you would make us count in the world.  You also promised that we wouldn’t need anyone.”

“I know I did,  Honey.  But that is not a healthy response.  Relationships are a natural part of life, and while I haven’t always been able to protect us from harm and abuse, I have made better choices, haven’t I?  I do care very much about you, and I know you have been hurt.”  There’s so much I want to say, but she does have a point.  “I’m sorry.”

“And what about her?”  They both glance in the direction of the young woman in the blanket.  She is too wounded to be angry.

“I made a terrible mistake, and you suffered for it.  I am so sorry.  I don’t know how to lessen your pain.”  Then, “Mother, I have stumbled through life, and made poor choices out of fear, anger, and impulsiveness.  I see now that I have hurt all of us.  How do we find alignment without trust?  Have I ruined our chances?”

“Of course not, Child.  There is always hope.  This is a good beginning.  We are talking, and you are listening.”

“I am listening, but I feel so responsible, and inadequate.”

“Oh, you are not inadequate;  far from it.”

“What we need,” interjects the Warrior Princess, “is direction and leadership.  You,” she is speaking to the young business man, “need to take a step back.  While your ambition is appreciated, it is not always in line with the common good.  Your energy and spirit are good, but you serve us better by working in the background.  As for you,”  she turns to the three friends, “your lightheartedness is wonderful, and we need you as a constant reminder of the need for tolerance and harmony.  Young lady,” she says addressing the twelve-year-old.  “You are mighty strong and that is admirable, but you are yet a child.  I invite you to be open to the future instead of always fearing it.  We need your youthful exuberance to power the movement.  And you, Little One, you are indeed precious, and we never want to be without your sense of wonder and innocence.  Professor, Wise Woman, you know your roles.  Young mother, you are much appreciated right now with these new grandchildren coming.  As for you, Young Man,” she turned to the little boy with the hair.  “You have the very important role of looking out for possibilities.  You have just the right amount of restlessness, coupled with curiosity and daring.  Every good team needs that. Now there is just one more thing to do.” Opening her arms, she gestures for the crowd to form a circle around her, then she invites the wounded girl and myself to join her in the middle.  Silently, she positions each of us facing one another.  I offer my hand to the girl and she takes it.  I clasp it to my heart.

“There is a lot of strength in this room, and I want you both to feel it.”  Although the room has fallen silent, and the faces are all somber, we can sense the truth in what she is saying.

“There is also a lot of hope, and love in this room.  Let that be with you, also.”  We both take a deep breath in, and I can see her shoulders relax a little, though she still clutches her blanket to her.

“There is no movement within a community of blame, only heartache and pain.  I want everyone here to release any blame that their heart may be holding.  Take a deep breath in and as you let it go, release any blame with it. Replace the blame with love for the whole.”  All chests rise on the inhale, and collectively we exhale a sigh of release.  Breathing in again, we begin to feel lighter.

“You are so beautiful,”  I tell my wounded self.  “You didn’t deserve this.  None of us did.  We all hurt for you.”  A murmur of agreement circles the room.  “And we all pray for your healing.”  The murmur becomes a rumble.

The Warrior Princess raises one hand in the air, placing her other palm on the Wounded One’s forehead.  “You are not alone,” she says.  “You must not carry the burden of this pain alone.  Let us each take on our share of the burden and lighten this young woman’s load.  Open your arms and receive her.”  All bodies push forward to embrace the Wounded One in a massive hug of energy.  From within the circle their is a heart-wrenching sob, then a flow of tears that passes from one self to the next until there is a palpable shift in the air.  Then, as if on cue, everyone steps back into the circle, giving us room.  Our eyes meet, and the most incredible thing happens.  The young woman lets go of her blanket, and standing straight and proud reaches her hand out for mine, and clasps it to her heart.  Her whole being shines with such radiance and light that I am not embarrassed by her nakedness.  She is beautiful!

I am beautiful.

We are all beautiful.

And in that moment we are so wonderfully aligned that we feel the perfection of our being, and the miracle that is existence.

“Thank you, all.”  I whisper, not wanting to break the reverie.

(Image: en.wikepedia.org)

 

First Glimpse Of ME/CFS

Hesitantly, I turned the key in the lock and pushed the door ajar.  A waft of warm, stale air accosted me.

“Hello?”  I’d been told there might not be a response.

Something was resting against the door, so I pushed harder to let myself in.  The beam from the light of the open doorway was thick with dust and it took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the darkness.  I was walking into a little foyer, with stairs ascending to the main level.  The walls on either side of the entrance were stacked high with boxes, and laundry baskets full of stuff.  Something lay on the floor at my feet – a coat, or a blanket, I couldn’t tell – the object of resistance.  I stepped over it and closed the door behind me.  The smell of the place accosted me then, a smothering aroma of dust, and cigarettes, and cat fur.  I wondered what I had gotten myself into.

“Hello?”  I called again, more desperate for a response.  None came.

She’ll be in the bedroom, at the end of the hallway, her mother had told me.  She likely won’t awaken.

It was the middle of the day, but dark blankets covered the windows, allowing for minimal light.  I waited for my eyes to adjust before climbing the steps to the kitchen.  The rows of boxes and debris continued and flowed into the kitchen, where dirty dishes and takeout containers littered the counters and floors.  Who could live like this?

I felt my way along the hall, carefully stepping through the hordes of items stashed there, until I reached the last bedroom.

Politeness made me knock again.  Again no response.

The situation was worse than I thought, and I seriously doubted my ability to be of help.  It all started when she was seventeen, her mother told me.  She had a terrible case of the flu, followed by encephalitis, and then one thing after the other.  She rarely gets up, and has trouble putting a sentence together.  The doctor’s have given up on her.  She hasn’t been out of the house for ten years, and we can’t get anyone to go in.  We’d really appreciate if you’d go see her.

Two tabby cats greeted me as I opened the bedroom door, as did the fetid odour of a litter box.  Shooing them aside, I approached the bed.  Rumpled bedding was tangled up in the middle of full size bed, but no sign of any thirty-three year-old woman.  Now what?

I decided she had to be somewhere within the mess of sheets and bedding, so centering myself, I began.  I ran my hands just above the bed, hoping for some sense of heat, or thickness, that might indicate there was a body inside.  Instead, I just felt foolish.  So, I stood at the foot of the bed and took some deep breaths, re-centering in hopes of some divine inspiration.

“Well?”  A thin, croaky voice emerged from under the covers.

“Hello,”  I said again, beginning to feel like a parrot.

A thin, waif-like hand appeared, followed by a matted head of hair.  She was tiny.  “Any hope?”  her voice sounded as if it was coming from under water: slurred and thick.

I was at a loss for words.  Here was this wisp of a woman, holed up this house with no daylight, and no fresh air, locked away from humanity, and all I could think of was how could she possibly survive.  I would have committed suicide long ago if it had been me.  What could I tell her about hope?

Then I remembered something both Joan Borysenko and Bernie Seigel had said during their workshops:  There is something to love about everyone.  Find it and you can help them. 

“Yes,”  I said.  “I believe there is.”

“Really?”   The word came out stretched and squeaky.

She had survived this long.  She had beaten odds, and continued to live.  It wasn’t much of an existence, but something kept her going.

“You have an incredible will.  Now, you just have to learn to channel that to get better.”

* * * * *

Patty’s story is for another day.  Meeting her taught me the importance of an idea that works.  There is something to love about everyone.  I use it everyday in my teaching practice.

(Image: www.experiencewellness.co.uk)

Acceptance

“I know what I want to give my Father.”  Dee looked at me through her veil of blonde hair.  Her face always bore such sweetness, yet the young girl I knew was so intense.

“Tell me.”

Dee was dying.  This was her third dance with cancer, and the doctor’s said it would be her last.  I visited daily, at her request, and we talked about fears, and dreams, and spirituality.  Lately, it had been on her mind that if her life was to be a short one (23 years), then she had to make it purposeful.

“I have decided that the best gift I can give him is to accept that he loves me, even if he doesn’t show it the way I’d like.  What do you think?”

Dee and her father had been fighting since the news came.  He wanted to take her home, but she refused.  She wanted to die here, in the town she had been living the past four years.  He couldn’t understand her unwillingness to fight in the face of death.  He wanted the doctors to do more.   She wanted him to let it go, and to be more emotionally available to her.  We had been discussing their relationship during my past two visits.

“I think that is an amazing gift, Dee.  I am forty years old, and I haven’t even been able to do that with my own father.  That’s the best gift ever.”

* * *

Dee had me thinking.  What would happen if I were to accept my father, just as he was?

Dad’s 75th birthday was coming up and I hadn’t yet bought him a gift.

He had asked for my acceptance once, and I’d said no.  It was the night he shared with me his awful secret.  He sat the family down and told us all.  He said that all he wanted was acceptance, and when he turned to me I said I couldn’t do it.  I said I needed my Father, and what he asked of me was too much.  I stormed out.

So, on his 75th birthday, I wrote him letter.  I apologized for that girl so many years ago, and I told him that I never really understood his problem.  I told him that I knew he loved me,  and that I loved him too.  And I said that when I got past all my self-righteous anger and frustration, I had to admit that he was probably the best teacher I ever had in life.  If it hadn’t been for his struggles and the challenges they presented for all us, I might never have been the person I was.  If there is a divine plan, or higher purpose for life, I wrote, then he accepted a hellish existence in order to give us the opportunity to grow and evolve.

He cried when he read it, and he called me up after, and said I had an odd way of looking at life, but that he appreciated it.  He appreciated it that I was willing to accept him as he was, but he wanted to be better.   Did I think it was too late?

I told him what Alan Cohen said:  “Look in the mirror.  If you see yourself looking back, then there’s still time.”

* * *

Dee’s father liked his present, too.  His anger had broken the next time I saw him, and he even let me see him cry.

 

Whiskey Fights

Most evenings I would return home from work at 10:30 exhausted by my day.  Juggling school, homework, and a part-time job was taxing, particularly as I worked from six to ten, four evenings a week, as well as eight hours on Saturdays.  Typically, I would stop to visit with my parents before heading off to bed.  It was always at these times that my father would engage me.

It started with an empty drink glass he would balance on his knee. This was to be my cue.  I would ignore him.

“Ahem!”  He would nod at the empty glass.

Continuing to ignore him, I would talk to my mother about the day.

Clink, clink, clink.  My father would tap the glass to get my attention.

“Your legs worked fine the last time I saw them.”

He’d raise his eyebrows in displeasure.  “I worked hard all day.  It’s the least you could do.”

“I worked hard all day, too.”  I’d object. “Get your own drink.”

My mother, the peacemaker, would take a step towards him.

“Don’t you dare, Mom!  You worked equally as hard all day.  He can get his own.”

“Is this the thanks I get?  All I want is a simple drink, and my own daughter won’t even get up and get it for me.”

It was the point of the thing.   My father was the epitome of male chauvinist pig.  It was his home, his castle, and everyone and everything was expected to pander to him.   It made me mad.

My mother stood by, hesitant.

‘It won’t hurt him to serve himself once in awhile.”  Now I was arguing with her.

“Your not going to win,”  she’d sigh.  My father leered with satisfaction.

“Not if you give in.”  It was a hopeless plea.  My mother always gave in.  Didn’t she realize I was on her side?  I was doing this for all of us?

This wasn’t about the drink.  It was about all the times he made her have dinner on the table the moment he walked through the door, then pushed his plate away after two bites, exclaiming disgust at her cooking; humiliating her in front of all of us.  And how he always had to have the first helping of pie, and it had to be flawlessly served; no broken pieces for him.   It was about how he insisted on napping in a chair beside the dinner table, forbidding us to talk even though we were busting to discuss our day.  And how every time we were watching the movie of the week, he would come in just at the climax and insist on changing the channel, even though he had a TV set in his room, which only he was allowed to watch.  He was the King of the Castle, he’d remind us.  As if we needed reminding.

For once, I wanted to win.  To prove him wrong.  To see him back down.  It wasn’t going to happen.

I got up and grabbed the glass.  There was no winning against my father.  He knew it.  She knew it.  I seethed inside.

(Image: www.photigy.com)