to love and cherish life just the way it is right now
Mom is the quintessential teacher. Never did she just give the synonym of a word I asked about, she would talk about roots and antonyms and use it in a sentence—or ask me to, to be sure I ‘got it!’ In high school I was the only kid in my class who loved As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, mostly because Mom awakened in me the ability to cherish the nuance of life. Recently I overheard her very gently correct a caregiver who used ‘lay down’ incorrectly. And she continues to teach me even now.
This week I had the chance to spend three quick days with my Mom in Florida. As I’ve written before, she first started experiencing dementia symptoms about six years ago. However at the turn of the New Year, mom declined rapidly and we brought in hospice. She rallied a bit and has been holding steady ever since. Sometimes over these years, I’ve had an incredibly difficult time during my visits. I’ve wanted Mom to be my Mom, the brilliant—albeit crazy!—woman I’ve known all my life. And while sometimes my Real Mom would shine through, more often than not it was challenging to see her slipping away.
This visit was different. After the first evening with her, I noticed she liked to finger things. So I went to a toy store and bought some children’s toys—multicolored stacking rings, a ladybug book with a finger puppet and stickers—things she could manipulate with her hands. We had such fun, that next day, just playing while listening to old show tunes, in between periods of napping or just smiling at each other and saying, I love you. It was so good—such sweet time and so precious—just accepting Mom as she is right now.
The next day, Mom wasn’t in the mood to play with shapes. She couldn’t remember my name, which she struggled with. I asked if she wanted me to tell her but she didn’t. She asked for clues and clearly was trying to pull out the right thing but couldn’t reach into the cloud of unknowing that is her world. I reminded Mom that even though she couldn’t pull to the fore so much about her life—my name, her world travels, her published book, her accomplishment of being valedictorian, her raising of three children and the literally decades of students she taught—that didn’t make them any less true. I, and all those who have been so powerfully influenced by her, not only hold those memories in our very being, we also hold her in the net of Love and life along with them. And for all the wonderful things that have made up her life, I reminded her that her beautiful way of being in the present moment so fully right now, was a precious gift in and of itself.
Mom is teaching me still—teaching me what James Finley terms the Divinization of Diminishment. We spend much of our lives building, seeking to shape and control our world to the best of our ability. We tend to hold on tightly to what we like, or to reject utterly that which we don’t; and when life doesn’t meet our expectations, we struggle. It is very easy to live in the past, or the future, or the conditional. Since we cannot control very much at all, we can live from a place of discontent—I will be happy if only…fill in the blank for yourself. And it can be hard to accept that in the end, all of what we create eventually comes down—sometimes slowly, sometimes swiftly.
As St. Benedict reminds:
For letting go is at the heart of loving.
Loving is about freeing.
What Mom is teaching me is not only how to accept what is, in this present moment, but to love and cherish life just the way it is right now.
Hope to see you on Sunday,