Today my mind is racing. My father has been in the hospital for almost a week. As his body improves his mind is deteriorating. He is struggling to understand why he is in the hospital and why he can’t be at home. He vacillates between gratitude for my help in managing his care to being angry and full of conspiracies about how his son is keeping him locked up. The nurses and doctors are heroes one moment and prison guards the next.
I have tried to mentally prepare for handling the last chapter of life with grace and ease. Yesterday as I was talking with Madeline about a film project we are working on she even commented about how calm and patient my voice was considering what was going on.
Looking back over the past couple of months reveals the pattern emerging towards this point. The number of days my presence was needed at my parents house to drive to doctors appointments has increased from 2-3 days to 5-6 days per week. Now it is daily visits to the hospital and to my parents house with teaching classes and completing photography and film projects squished in between.
I’m trying to hold it together and in the moments I am with my parents I feel calm and filled with gratitude. There is no angst and apprehension. Nothing has surprised me and I feel confident that their lives will eventually end without my having any sense of regret that I had left something unsaid or unresolved.
Sarah tries to ease my burden at home and is kind and patient with me. She usually has a glass of wine or a shot of whiskey waiting for me by the time I work my way across our icy driveway to the house.
None the less, it is starting to catch up to me and today I feel my heart racing and my mind cloudy and unfocused. The other night I woke up at 3am and saw I had missed call from the hospital at midnight. I wondered if I had missed a notification that he had passed away. I thought about that for the next couple of hours as I lay in bed refusing to make the return call. I kept telling myself that they would have left a message or tried calling repeatedly. Calling back could wait but processing the possibilities in my mind could not.
I hadn’t slept the night before either because I was in the hospital ER room with my parents all night. I didn’t go back to sleep that morning either as I worked myself through the range of emotions of what I know will be the inevitable.
The mind and body keep working through the crisis at the subconscious level. My conscious self tells me I am calm, assured, and ready to face the issues. My body betrays me and acknowledges the crisis as the nerves begin to fray. Today has been that day where you realize you are just barely holding everything together and are at the end of your capacity.
The whole work-life-crisis management balance has gone a little sideways as I receive multiple calls from hospitalists, nurses, and senior caregivers as I am struggling to wrap up a film project that I need to presented to an audience in a couple of days.
There is a kind of muscle memory of having gone through other emotional crisis in my life. The last real shortly after my divorce over a decade ago. It was the darkest moment in my life. Much darker than this because I wasn’t mature enough to handle it.
I am thankful to have gone through that sense of loss and emptiness prior to this. It was a process of returning to nothingness and shedding the ego.
Through that dark and empty void I woke up to a greater sense of joyful presence. I adopted a Taoist approach of Wu Wei towards life. I no longer fear crisis and I no longer get so paralyzed by it. I’ve kept moving and I have tried to honor my commitment of being kind and grateful in every circumstance. My personal life motto is DO NO HARM.
This week my classes were taught, reports were filed, and photographs were delivered to customers. Now I just have one last project to wrap up for the week. I just need to get out of the fog and concentrate.
Writing helps. I try to write haiku poetry as a form of meditation and mental discipline. It compels me to remain present and to view the moment as if from a third party observer’s perspective who recognizes the temporal nature of the now and non-existence of the past and future.
Making photographs does that as well. Photography requires a heightened sense of situational awareness physical forms, light, and movement. Seeing the world for it’s graphic qualities frees the mind from thinking too much about meaning that is corrupted through the lens of cultural values. Nature is neither good or bad. Nature is nature. Nature isn’t judgmental.
I think Ansel Adam’s understood this when he said, Stieglitz would never say that certain objects of the world were more or less beautiful than others-telegraph poles, for instance, compared with oak trees. He would accept them for what they are, and use the most appropriate objects to express his thoughts and convey his vision.“
Riding motorcycles engages all my senses too. Deep concentration and awareness is required to remain safe. The same is true for rock climbing or any other completely engrossing physical experience that takes you away from critical self centered thinking to simply perceiving through all five senses and interacting with the world intuitively as an active participant rather than a casual observer.
Unlike other forms of prose that I enjoy writing, Haiku’s brevity grabs me and makes me aware of all my senses as I carefully select words to fit within the structure of syllables and lines. The counting of syllables and the attempt to describe sensations or movements without the ability to fully define their meaning allows for something greater to emerge into my consciousness.
On a day like today when I cannot take the time to go out and photograph or I cannot go for a motorcycle ride I will hit the pause button and drink a hot cup of tea and write.
Here are a couple haiku poems I have written about tea.
Tea and Meditation
As the tea leaves steep
My anguish settles into
I went back and reread a journal entry I had made during that really dark time in my life. I wrote about the experience of standing in the kitchen waiting for the tea water to come to a boil. I decided to distill the long narrative into a haiku.
The teapot whistles
Like a train or frantic flute
And I want to scream
I think Haiku represents the emotional growth that has occurred in me. So often in my past I would try to understand the why of a situation. Why is this happening? It was as if I thought I could alter the course of the universe and justify my poor behavior in the process. Each time I would betray my better self and give up my position of kindness and empathy.
It took a long time for me to realize that understanding why something happens doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t make it any less sad or difficult. I think the frustration of thinking you can control a situation creates the emotional friction that leads to unnecessary emotional suffering. In the moments my father wants to understand why he is in the hospital and not allowed to go home he is suffering. In the moments when he lets go of trying to understand and accepts that he is loved and being cared for he is extremely happy and grateful. In those moments he is present and I can hold his hand and share a smile with him.
My grandmother understood this. When she was 85 she gave me a copy of the Dalai Llama’s book The Four Noble Truths. I admired her ability to keep learning and growing and working through the difficult moments of losing her husband who was the love of her life and then subsequently losing a lover who lived in the same retirement community. She was a wonderfully complex and simple at the same time She was a fan of Ronald Reagan, Sister Madonna, and the Dalai Llama and listened to the gospel singing of Mahalia Jackson every morning and drank a Margherita every afternoon at 3pm. Near the end of her life I used to enjoy spending time with her watching Dodger’s games. She tried to never miss one.
From her I learned that real growth happens in a process of acceptance and gratitude. Acceptance lets you ride the roller coaster of each moment and let yourself be transformed by the experience. Just as metal is forged through fire the spirit or soul of a person is cultivated through the challenges endured.
There hasn’t been a single negative experience that didn’t leave me better for it and filled with gratitude. Evolution is about things getting better or worse… it’s just change over time and recognizing the universal experiences of both positive and negative events that balance out and make life worth all of these experiences.
Haiku for me reflects the observation of a moment with the intent to honor and accept it. It pushes me past understanding towards gratitude. I leave you with a couple of more for today.
We evolved from fish
One bone, two bones, many bones
What about our minds?
Green leaves still flutter
Winter snow ignores Autumn
Birds leave the feeder