Quote from The Zen of Cats by Bernard Gunther:
“Who you think you are can’t survive, but who you really are can’t not survive.”
In my fifties I worked with a Spiritual Director in an attempt to find out who I was. I had always been a chameleon, adapting to fit relationships, any relationship, even someone chatting in the line at the grocery. I’d done this since childhood, but finally decided that I was tired of not being sure who I was if no one else was around either physically or in my head.
To discover my whole real self involved looking at shadow parts that I didn’t admit to, even though they were obvious to others. One of the ways to do this was to work with my dreams. If we start writing them down as soon as we wake up remembering them, we can begin to discover what they are saying to or about us. Some of the characters in my dreams and therefore in my psyche, weren’t very nice. They were, in fact, very different from the persona I considered my ‘self.’
One day, after a somewhat disconcerting session with my Spiritual Director, I went to visit my mother in the nursing home. Mom was in the late stages of Alzheimer’s and didn’t even seem to notice me, never-the-less recognize me. So, I sat next to her bed and just held her hand. I was in inner turmoil over the possibility that I wasn’t just the friendly, generous, caring person that I liked to think I was. As I sat there, I was trying to convince myself that this negative side of me wasn’t real.
Mom had a roommate who had only been there a few weeks, but in all that time she never seemed to notice me or the nurses when we came in and never responded in any way when anyone spoke to her.
As I sat there silently, rationalizing about my feet of clay, the roommate raised up on her elbow in her bed, looked straight at me, and said clearly, “You aren’t who you thought you were, are you?”
As I stared at her dumbfounded, she lay back down, closed her eyes, and never said another word in my presence. About two weeks later she died. We really are all connected. I just hope God can use me someway in the last days of my life to help someone else in the tapestry.
So much for denial! Obviously, even when I am psychologically jamming my fingers in my ears and singing Jesus Loves Me at the top of my inside my head voice, God can speak loudly and clearly when it’s needed to grow more honest in order to become more loving.
I’ve never been a person who lives in the present moment. I have always been mentally rushing pell mell into the future. I’m either worrying about running late, planning ahead to avoid a possible problem, or dreaming hopefully about a future project or stage of life. Hitting Medicare age definitely presents a challenge for people like me. We have to face that we may be running out of future.
In my early sixties I developed some health problems. Though not life threatening, they were time consuming. Suddenly, I was spending a lot of time in Doctors’ waiting rooms. People who live with one foot in the next minute, day, or year are not naturally patient people. Sitting for hours in small rooms listening to people in more advanced states of physical decay is a definite stressor for us. Although I have the domestic talents of a Gabor sister (though unfortunately not the physical endowments), a friend suggested that I take up crocheting to help me stay calm. It was stretching my limits to learn how to simply make straight rows of approximately equal width and of whatever length that the time in a waiting room allowed. This was amazingly soothing, an experience of grace. However, it began to cause others frustration, when they asked me what I was making and I replied, “Nothing.”
It would seem that for many people, making nothing challenges the very foundations of their value systems. It is at the very least unpatriotic, if not ungodly. So, I found myself getting much unsought advice on useful things I could be making. I finally realized that I was actually, though accidentally, accumulating a collection of what appeared to be winter scarves. Admittedly, some were long enough to come to the knees of NBA basketball players, but still it gave me an answer for the Martha Stewarts of the waiting rooms. And as I ran out of family members with birthdays about the time cold weather arrived, I was inspired to begin donating them to a homeless shelter. Now, I was not only calm, domestic, and productive, I was altruistic.
This period of difficulty along with its gratuitous side effects brought alive a sermon I had heard back when I lived in the land of denial. A many seasoned Minister had passed on these gems, “Life is hard.” and “For every goodie, there’s a baddie and for every baddie, there’s a goodie.” It seems impossible that I lived to sixty without admitting to myself that life really is hard. But since, I always focused on the wonderful untarnished possibilities of the future, it happened kind of naturally. For dreamers, running out of future means slamming into a brick wall called reality.
We’re like the joke about the two little boys, one a complete pessimist and the other an incorrigible optimist. The pessimist was put in a room with all the toys imaginable for a boy his age. After a few moments he began to sit dejectedly ignoring them all. When asked what the problem was, he replied, “I just know they’ll break, if I play with them. Or my mom will put a lot of them away for later, so I don’t want to like them and have to give them up.” Meanwhile, the optimist had been put in a room full of horse manure, where he was cheerfully singing and excitedly digging his way toward the bottom of the pile. When asked why he was so cheerful, he replied, “With this much manure, there’s bound to be a pony in here somewhere!”
Actually, both worrying about worst case scenarios and dreaming impossible dreams are attempts to avoid reality.
Since we are only given grace for the trouble at hand, not for those we imagine for tomorrow, my biggest challenge is learning to live in the present moment. Sometimes the brick walls of reality are themselves the agent of grace. There’s nothing like running out of future for providing motivation for living in the present. So the upside of hitting Medicare age is that it can open up a whole new way of being in the world.
There is always enough grace for the moment even for a dreamer/ worrier like me. With the grace of God I can learn to “seize the day!”