Friday, October 21, 2011

Faces of our Lives

As one of my simplicity priorities, I am always seeking balance. Life is full of joys and sorrows - we can't get by without either one - and somehow we must learn to cope with what we see around us, with us, and in us.

When I was pregnant with Matt in January 1983, my maternal grandfather lay dying.  On that very same day, my cousin's wife was having a baby girl.  I remember the conversation going on long distance over the phone, with the family at Paw-Paw's bedside encouraging him to hold on, that he was getting a great-granddaughter any minute.  Paw-Paw died, and Hope was born into the world.  One went out, one came in.  Sorrow and Happiness holding hands.

Every time I am grieving, a part of me realizes that others are happy at the same time that I am sad.  I may be heading to a funeral while others are going to a wedding.  I may be struggling with despair while others just down the street are celebrating remission of cancer.  Conversely, I may be enjoying watching my grandson play while others are hearing the news that their son has died overseas.  

This yin and yang of life has always fascinated me - and one interpretation of yin and yang is that "their interaction is thought to maintain the harmony of the universe and to influence everything within it."  It brings to mind lyrics from that old song "Love and Marriage" - "Try, try, try to separate them, it's an illusion....You can't have one without the other."

We just got a new Border Collie puppy and named her Lily.  I took her to work on Tuesday to show her off.  She charmed everyone; who doesn't like a puppy?  On Wednesday morning, I found out that my supervisor's dog had been accidentally run over and killed the evening of that visit, and another co-worker had to take her beloved terminally ill pet in to be put down that very day.  A new pet coming in, two pets going out.  And life goes on.

I think my happiness and contentment will forever be a little tempered by the knowledge that others are simultaneously suffering, and too, in my times of tears and sadness, I need to remember that there is still joy and happiness in the world coexisting with my pain.  As humans, we are connected in that way.   We grieve with each other, and we celebrate with each other.  Sometimes that makes life hard.  Sometimes, though, it makes life bearable.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Supported by Strangers

I have always believed in the power of dreams to teach us lessons that we are meant to discover.  I had a dream last week that made me think about my life in a new way.

In the dream, Ed was driving Mom and me to the grocery.  When we got there, he parked in a place that I thought was too far from the store, even though it was on even ground for Mom to maneuver.  So while they went into the store, I decided to re-park the car.  The next part, of course, is strange, as most dreams have those moments which don't make sense - but I ended up parking the car in a big crowded room of people sitting in folding chairs.  The room was full of these people, leaving only a sliver of an aisle on one side, just enough for me to squeeze the car in and drive it all the way to the front, which put me right smack in front of the grocery building.  I was pleased with myself about finding a parking space so close, but it was then that I realized Ed was going to freak out when he saw what I had done.  I myself was panicking!  On my own poor judgment, I had gotten the car wedged into a tight space, so tight that Ed would never be able to back it out, and besides, I couldn't even open the doors for him and Mom to get in when they came back to the car.  I was so upset at what a stupid thing I had done.  How could I have been so idiotic?

It was that moment in the dream that I happened to look around, and everyone in those chairs had seen my predicament and had voluntarily gotten up, moved their chairs over, and sat back down again, leaving me ample room for the car.  They had done this without my asking.  They had done it as strangers.  They had supported me in my time of desperation and had done what they could to help.  They had done it without fanfare, without demanding my gratitude; indeed, they had done it so quietly, I hadn't even realized I was being helped until it was over.

Looking back on my life, I realize I have been supported hundreds of times by total strangers, as well as friends and family who openly encouraged me, and friends, family and acquaintances who worked anonymously behind the scenes.  I was given their gifts, for the most part, without my asking, and many times, when I didn't deserve it - because, after all, I know how to make my own messes, my own poor decisions, and it's my own fault, right?  Yet, they were there through it all, without blame, without punishment, without lectures.  They got up, moved their chairs, and sat back down again.  They inconvenienced themselves for my benefit when they saw the need.

So you can see how coincidental it was that after that dream, another stranger inconvenienced himself to brighten our lives.

Mom listens to WDEA radio in Maine, and her favorite disc jockey is a guy named Rick Foster.  She loves his signature sign-off, something about asking his wife to put on the coffee pot, "I'm comin' home."  She talked about him enough that I finally decided to find his picture online so she could see what he looked like.  I found a photo on the station's web site, but it was too small for her to see clearly, so on the spur of the moment, I e-mailed Mr. Foster, explained the situation, and asked if he could send her a larger picture of himself by e-mail or regular mail.   He wrote back, saying he would be happy to do that, but "would she be up for a visit?" Oh, what a surprise was in store for Mom!

So on Wednesday afternoon, Rick and his sweet wife, Becky, drove to Hancock to see my mother.  She was shocked and overjoyed.  We had a wonderful visit, and Rick did indeed present her with an 8 x 10 autographed photo which I told her I would frame and hang on her wall.   Mom has since told the story of that visit to a few family members and friends - and I love to hear her tell it, because she is still shocked and excited that it ever happened.  As my sister, Joy, remarked, "We try so hard to find something to buy for Mother that will bring her pleasure, never really succeeding, and here it is - an experience like this, a relationship, a memory, that overshadows anything we could have possibly bought."

Look at it this way:  We took Mother away from her close friends and other relatives, her familiar surroundings, her house. We moved her to a place where she doesn't know anybody but family.   Her accident took away her easy mobility to walk around or drive a car.  Macular degeneration is taking her eyesight, rheumatoid arthritis is taking her fine motor skills, and the radio becomes a constant companion.   Rick Foster, who has been entertaining her through the airwaves, was gracious enough to visit her and lift her spirits, in turn giving her a story she is excited to pass on to whoever will listen.  Mr. Foster did this of his own initiative, without being asked, once he saw how he could make a difference.

Rick Foster - one of the many people in that room of my life, who got up and moved their chairs, inconvenienced themselves for me and those I love.  I am truly blessed.