Settling in after caring for Ron away from home for eight months has been a challenge. How easy it is to accumulate “stuff.” Necessities I had at home but were two hours away, I replaced. Then dragged the replacements home with me. Well some I shared, some I donated, but lots and lots came home with me. It’s always just easier to pack than to sort. Sorting means evaluating, which means establishing criteria, which means identifying characteristics or weighing positives and negatives. Stuffing the stuff seems preferable. Until the boxes are all dragged in the house. Then it seems overwhelming.
However, for life to continue – at least for me – the mess must be tamed. A place for stuff must be found. . . Tomorrow . . . Maybe.
Now that I’m home and the nursing facility is only 3 minutes – not 30 – away, I am running back and forth, trying to arrange my errands and chores during Ron’s nap times. I am missing the calm of the bubble that was “”away from home” where my only requirement was to spend the day at Ron’s bedside. Now I have a life again – sort of – and stuff to deal with. How to juggle it all while maintaining my priority on Ron’s needs?
I once saw a juggler who paused before his performance to celebrate gravity. He invited the audience to cheer for the reliability of gravity. So he dropped a ball – several times – and mock marveled at the amazing feat that the ball always went down, not up. Every time! Gravity works! How miraculous! He asked the audience to remember to cheer, not to become jaded by gravity’s dependability, to remember that not every planet is so fortunate. Of course the audience laughed at his antics, and laughed again when they cheered wildly over the first missed catch. But he didn’t miss often, so the joke stayed fresh. And it reduced our collective anxiety over his need to be perfect. A good life lesson. We drop balls. Relax. Gravity works.
So will all the stuff get sorted? Will I manage to get everything done? Nah. Not perfectly at least. Where there’s life, there’s stuff. I can reduce, reuse, recycle as much as possible, but more will accumulate. Celebrate life. I can juggle schedules like a master, but will all the errands be accomplished. Not likely. There will always be more errands so long as I’m healthy enough to run them. Do I really want them to cease? What wouldn’t Ron give to have the ability to tackle a “honey do” list right now? Celebrate health.
A prayer wells up within me, “Lord, grant me the wisdom to celebrate the underlying principles of your design. Help me to navigate the oppositional forces in place, even use them to my own advantage when I can. Help me to remember to celebrate your behind-the-scenes perfection revealed even by my human imperfection, by my very longing to perfect life. In fact, give me the spider’s tenacity to spin again no matter how many times I brush his plans aside.” Amen.
Years ago when my children were young and times were difficult, my husband (and their new stepfather) said to me, “Remember, Anna, you’re playing for the long run.” In other words, my job as a parent was to recognize that my children would not always be little, that it was my job to hold tough and do what was best for the future, not just what felt good or was easiest in the moment. Those words became my mantra through the years of shared visitation, adolescent angst, and nest leaving. What action is most loving? What response is most helpful? What matters most in the long run? Over the years I have discovered that filtering any life situations through “the long run” lens brings clarity and resolve, no matter the challenge. And, believe me, no matter how long you live, no matter your economic circumstances, life will continue to bring challenges. If you have not found this claim to be true, then there is no point in your reading my blog. We have nothing in common. But having lived to be 21 more than three times, I have yet to meet anyone who has faced life unscathed by troubles. Our own life stories are the ones we know best, and each plot is advanced by conflict and made interesting by both comedic and dramatic elements. The latest plot twist in my life was my husband’s ischemic stroke on the morning of December 1, 2013. I rose early to boil potatoes for the noon family gathering. Everyone planned to celebrate at our house after Ron performed the baptism of our newest great-grandchild. His left hand flailed out to find mine as I came to the bedside to ask what was wrong. I had heard strange noises while I worked in the kitchen and came to investigate. Immediately, I guessed what was wrong. I dredged some e-mail forward trivia from my memory: “Ron, stick out your tongue!” No response. “Ron! Say your name! Say mine!” Nothing but wide eyes and panic. I pressed 911 with trembling fingers and dashed back to hold Ron’s hand again while the calm dispatcher took information and stayed on the line with me. After the EMTs arrived, and we were ready to hang up, the soothing voice reminded me he had once been my student – and so had one of the paramedics assisting Ron. Those moments ushered in the new era for us – a letting go of the world we knew and loved – and plunged us into new rhythms, new surroundings, new challenges and sufferings. But we were not alone. Those we loved and those for whom we had paid forward our care and concern, were now surrounding us with prayers, support, and encouragement. We had been playing for the long run in ways we didn’t even recognize at the time. Now we are many months into this journey. I have remained at Ron’s side almost every day – only four total days have separated us – and three of those were caused by blizzards. I don’t know what this challenge will require of us yet, nor where it will lead before we reach the end – as all of us must. But I do know Ron’s advice from more than thirty years ago still proves trustworthy. This moment is the only one we have, yet it is not all there is. Therefore we must invest our time wisely. We will not always have each other’s hand to hold. We will not always be on this plane or trapped in the weakness of flesh. We can’t foresee what the future holds. But we can do whatever is loving, speak whatever is helpful, find life by letting go of the need to control it. We can play for the long run.