My friend, role-model, and father passed away early this morning a little after midnight. His fight was over and he was ready. He sat up one last time as if to say, “It’s my time. I’m coming home.”
The house seemed empty today when we returned from all the breathless running around one does after a loved one takes their final breath. Even though he hasn’t been home in a few weeks it seemed he had just left the house. Keys, hats, computers, movies, his chair all still in their proper place. It seems this is still his house, his home. But…it’s not. Sure, there are memories and experiences. A lifetime of highs and lows to relive for the rest of our time on this shadow side of eternity but he has moved and left a forwarding address.
I sit in the quietude with his presence still lingering. I think about all of the rough days he’s had over the last 8 months, the noises of the machines which were keeping him alive. After we received the phone call we drove over to the hospice house to say our; “Goodbyes.” The room was so still. No beeping, whirring, pumping, dripping, nurses checking in. It was motionless and the silence was deafening. My mother began to fill the atmosphere with soft cries, and soft words to her best friend and lover of the last 40 years. My brother and I standing in the background, witnesses to a heart affair which is rare in this world. Finally, after a few more kisses from her on his hands and cheek, we left all thankful we’d never see that room again and that he had moved on to his permanent address.
And now, we are left to carry on. To occupy a house which isn’t home without him. To learn to adjust to a new normal we didn’t choose. To loosen our grip on this world, this place, because we know home is waiting for us on the other side.
On Wednesday night of this week, I was speaking with someone about being truthful and honest to the people in our lives. He stated that being too open can lead to betrayal and pain and therefore he doesn’t share his story for fear of being taken advantage of. It was a fair argument but I told him maybe his issue wasn’t being fearful of openness but being open to the wrong people. People we can trust, who won’t use our words and experiences against us, who will listen to understand and be a shoulder to lean on are invaluable.
Earlier in the week, I shared a fatherhood presentation to a group of fathers who have young kids in school. There were dads who were going in to work late and some who had worked all night diligently sitting there to learn more about how they could be involved in their children’s lives, especially when it comes to education. After the presentation while saying; “goodbye” to the fathers one of the attendees came up and began speaking with me. She had some questions about getting a father involved and shared her story. What she told me was hard to hear with many issues and other challenges she’s had to overcome. I couldn’t believe how open she was being when we had just met a few moments earlier. She believes I am someone she can trust with her family.
Openness, transparency, is something most say they desire in themselves and others. However, these can bring feelings of uncomfortableness, questions that aren’t easily answered, and an unsettling fear of not being skilled enough to meet the need. When these thoughts are rushing through our minds the need to breathe and be still must be remembered. Most people don’t want you to fix them they simply need someone to listen without judging. If there are problems to solve and mysteries to unravel we can do them together as we travel this path called life.
The late Stephen Covey tells a story about a time he was speaking to a group of people in Sacramento, California:
… I was speaking on the subject of proactivity, a woman in the audience stood up in the middle of my presentation and started talking excitedly. It was a large audience, and as a number of people turned to look at her, she suddenly became aware of what she was doing, grew embarrassed and sat back down. But she seemed to find it difficult to restrain herself and started talking to the people around her. She seemed so happy.
I could hardly wait for a break to find out what had happened. When it finally came, I immediately went to her and asked if she would be willing to share her experience.
“You just can’t imagine what’s happened to me!” she exclaimed.
“I’m a full-time nurse to the most miserable, ungrateful man you can possibly imagine. Nothing I do is good enough for him. He never expresses appreciation; he hardly even acknowledges me. He constantly harps at me and finds fault with everything I do. This man has made my life miserable and I often take my frustration out on my family. The other nurses feel the same way. We almost pray for his demise.
“And for you to have the gall to stand up there and suggest that nothing can hurt me, that no one can hurt me without my consent, and that I have chosen my own emotional life of being miserable well, there was just no way I could buy into that.
“But I kept thinking about it. I really went inside myself and began to ask, ‘Do I have the power to choose my response?’
“When I finally realized that I do have that power when I swallowed that bitter pill and realized that I had chosen to be miserable, I also realized that I could choose not to be miserable.
“At that moment I stood up. I felt as though I was being let out of San Quentin. I wanted to yell to the whole world, ‘I am free! I am let out of prison! No longer am I going to be controlled by the treatment of some person.’ ”
It’s not what happens to us, but our response to what happens to us that hurts us.”
Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule, tragedies, sickness, and death, but for the most part, we are a direct result of the choices we’ve made with the experiences we’ve encountered in this life.
I read a quote yesterday that I’ve been reflecting upon; “The world we see and interact with is the product of how our mind perceives the world.” We are assaulted each day by an overabundance of visual, auditory, sensory stimuli. It is hard not to be separated by what we experience. However, if our minds, emotions, and spirits are ever to be free we must train our minds to be still so we can experience the world anew and break free from what we’ve known, what we’ve thought, the life we’ve lived.
The other morning I took the dog outside for some “private” time and waited on the front porch for him to finish. He was taking an extra long so I started walking to make sure he was focused on the task at hand. However, as I stepped forward I walked into a spider web. It was on my face and I did the obligatory “spider web dance” everyone does where you throw your hands in the air, wipe your face and hands trying to get the sticky substance off your face and body. The web belonged to a small spider and the web was invisible until I walked into it.
I feel like our country and world has been walking into spider webs this week. Invisible, sticky, hard to avoid and get out of situations and circumstances. Things such as racial tensions which we avoid until we can’t have been front and center. Politics and how they divide us. History and its impact on our culture. Power, ego, arrogance, and leadership has stuck to those who are trying to direct and guide us. Mistakes, bad choices, negative thinking, biases, judgment, have all clung to us and seem impossible to get rid of.
Wisdom tells us that if we wish to know the true way we must be still, silent, at peace and humble. However, it seems impossible because new crises and threats emerge seemingly every day. There’s also another wisdom saying; “Be still for at least 30 minutes unless you are busy or in a hurry then sit still for an hour.”
I long for our world to simply be still, for a moment, and see the difference it could make.
Not So Fast! –
Today, on my way to a meeting in Shelbyville, Tennessee I was cruising along at a crisp 60MPH when I spied a flashing construction sign which read; “New Signal Light Ahead. Be Prepared to Stop!” I was confused because I’ve never known this road to be extra busy but began to slow down as I rounded a curve and sure enough a new traffic light had been installed. It was red when I first saw it and stayed red…for a long time! I thought maybe the light was broken and we should begin proceeding carefully but none of the other vehicles moved. Finally, it turned green and as I reached the new light there were two signs which read; “Stop Here On Red.” “Maximum Time for Red Light: Three Minutes.” When you’re traveling three minutes can feel like an eternity and certainly did as I waited for the green. For the record, the light was red on my way out-of-town as well. Grrrr!
Practicing stillness is important. I do it every day when I meditate, pray and at various other times, especially when it’s been hectic. Stillness is a central discipline to gaining wisdom and experiencing life. However, I’d prefer to dictate when I will and won’t be still. I’d like it to be my decision. I surely didn’t want it on my way to a meeting, driving down a country road. Yet, here was a time of stillness forced upon me but instead impatience, confusion was the result.
To truly know stillness is to carry it with you. It shouldn’t need to be conjured up on a timetable. Being still is more than a way of life it’s a way of being. It’s also a lesson and a discipline I’m still working on.
Don’t Move –
Yesterday, taking a break from yard work on a hot day in May, I sat on the porch wiping the sweat off my brow with a towel and drinking a bottle of water. As I sat there a brown bird, who has a nest in the corner of the porch swooped down and landed on my leg. I froze. A bird landing on me was awesome but I didn’t dare move for fear of scaring it away. Sweat poured down my face, my tired arms and restless legs immovable. It seemed like it was forever but I knew it was only a few minutes until I had to dry the sweat from my eyes and take another drink of water. Predictably, the bird flew off as soon as I moved. For a second, however, I was still enough to enjoy the experience.
It’s hard being still in today’s world. We miss so much because we are so busy. We’ve got places to go and people to see. Schedules have to be kept and filled calendars emptied.
I wonder how many small wonders we miss because life’s most important moments are only ours to experience if we’d simply be still?
Crawl. Walk. Run.
A couple of weeks ago I shared; “My Depression and Anxiety Story” (https://thewannabesaint.com/2016/04/27/my-depression-and-anxiety-story/) after I had gone on my first run in over two years.
My goal was simple. I would run/walk as often as my physical and mental health would let me. Knowing it would take time to build strength and endurance I took days off and did my best to pace myself. It was important that I didn’t push too hard so I tried to be careful not to strain or sprain anything. However, after two weeks, I noticed both knees were beginning to hurt and by Wednesday of this week I couldn’t walk without severe pain and there were times I thought about crawling from my office to the truck or from the couch to the kitchen. On Friday I went to the doctor and she noticed there was swelling on both knees and we made the decision for me to receive one steroid injection in each leg. Following the shots the physical therapist told me; “Stay off your legs as much as possible until Sunday afternoon. The less you are on your feet the more potent the steroid will be to the injured areas.” So, on a beautiful weekend, I am stuck on the couch. “Ugh!”
Long journeys never seem to abide with our plans. Doing my best to follow the doctor’s advice the last couple of days I’ve had time to reflect on this long journey with Depression and Anxiety. Much like dealing with knee difficulties there have been days with depression and anxiety when all I could do was sit despondently and watch the world go by. Other days I’ve crawled along the path. Most days I walk, albeit slowly, and one day I hope to be able to mentally run on my journey toward recovery.
Wisdom teaches us to crawl, walk then run. Whatever we do, wherever we go, there is a pace, a rhythm. One must be in sync to find and navigate the path towards wholeness and healing.
On my journey with these diseases I cannot dictate the speed. Instead I must accept that each day will be unique and sometimes stillness is the only way forward.