The Buddha, The Dharma, The Sangha

"Spiritual powers and their wondrous functioning--hauling water and carrying firewood." --Layman Pang, upon his realization

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Care of One Who Cared So Well For Me

A clear, cold winter Sunday morning in Connecticut, the coast line bright and shimmering, the marsh grasses golden brown and dancing.
This is the light and wind of my childhood. These are the colors that saturated my days of play and my nights of dreams.
The smell of the air is distinctly tangy, often bitter and funky from the marshes at low tide, and it's an odor that stirs an absolute primitive recognition and satisfaction...Home, a geography where I feel fundamentally safe, where I understand the natural world as I am understood in turn.
Osprey over head, a blue heron working the marsh edge, wild turkeys led by an ostentatious tom and all the creatures beneath the salt water that move in harmony to the pulse of this beautiful eco-system, all in concert. Here my blood responds to the rise and fall of the tides.

Certainly, this geography is in my mother's blood. She has never been further from the coast line of New England than 10 minutes inland, with most of her 81 years spent within spitting distance of the ocean. Her intense love for for these costal places was passed on to me in eutero, along with fresh oxygen and nutrients, and sometimes I think her yearning for a place even as she inhabits that place, was also passed on to me. It makes for an odd dislocation, of being exactly where you want to be, and yet feeling some deep loneliness for exactly that place....Ah, thank you Buddha....Dukkha!

Today my brother and sister-in-law will be here at my mother's home to discuss with her the options for her future living--all options require huge change on her part, and she will not be happy, not for a while at least.
As the days go on, my brothers and I recognize the markers of self care and independence erode, and we find ourselves making grand proclamations about her welfare and what must happen next to ensure that she be comfortable and safe.
And then we back off, finding that the reality of change is terribly sad, really, and deeply disconcerting.

We want our Mom.
We want our Mom who knew exactly what to say to the playground bully, who treated us to hot fudge sundaes at dinnertime, who let us stay home from school on random days even if we weren't sick, who laughed and sang at dinner parties that we "crashed".
We even, on some level, want the Mom who was a sloppy drunk, a careless driver, negligent, self-absorbed, self-indulgent, narcissistic, insecure and deeply flawed--in other words, our very human Mom.

When I talk to my brothers, I can hear the frustration and sense of loss in their voices, but they don't talk in terms of fear or sadness...they just sound angry. My dear sister-in-law, having been through these experiences, offers such kind fundamentals and compassion, all delivered with a matter of fact openness. She says, "OK this is what you do..." and lays it all out as if she is reciting a favorite fail-proof recipe. I love her for this certainty, but recognize that each step of the way is a new step, never encountered before, never to be repeated.

My mother's transition into elder care is of course inevitable, as we are all born, live our lives, grow old, and die. That's the deal, as one of my friends says.
We get to inhabit this incredibly complex, wonderous body, to experience to the fullest capacity all the gifts the senses can offer, all the beauty and ugliness of this world, and then to go beyond the confines of this form, to exist in love, in awe, in respect, in compassion and joy, in and out of balance until we discover that equanimity which is unchanging, unborn, undying.
As we live here, we get to practice being human and being Buddha, over and over again, and then when the time comes, to release that practice altogether.

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