Alzheimer's disease · Caregiver · Caregiving · Emerson · Everyday · Mindfulness · Transcendence

More than this / June 25, 2006

Just a short post to, first, link to an excellent essay called How to Be Where You Are by my friend Gail, at Mom and Me Too, about mindfulness and how the daily acts of caregiving can enlarge what seems sometimes to be the very isolated life of the caregiver and her Ancient One. In her essay Gail writes a wonderful passage about the way she selects the color of her mother’s bedsheets on a given day, based on her awareness of her Mom’s present situation and of how the use of different colors can soothe or encourage anyone who looks at them. It doesn’t get any better than that.

As an addendum to Gail’s essay I’d like to quote a passage from one of my favorite writers, Ralph Waldo Emerson. I thought of it as I read Gail’s words. Finding the eternal in the ephemeral is, to me, what mindfulness is all about. It counteracts the ridiculous celebrity culture that we live in by affirming the capacity of each one of us to touch what’s truly important: the permanence of the spirit, or the divine presence within us all. I know, I know–it sounds way too New Age-y to matter to someone who has to deal every day with bodily functions and misplaced memories. But as Gail says in her essay, we already do this in so many ways without even thinking about it. Being aware of The Moment–the comforting aroma of fresh coffee, the lullaby of crickets on a summer night, the particular blue of moonlight on a new snowfall–reminds you (the often-lonely caregiver) that you have a hotline to all that matters. Right now. And it’s everywhere, once you cut through the double fog of regret and anticipation.

I’ll “up the ante” and also propose cultivating an attitude of gratefulness for each day. It sounds crazy–I should be grateful for my mother’s ever-growing confusion? I should be thankful for the nights when I get only three hours of sleep because she gets up at midnight, thinking it’s morning? Well, no–we don’t have to be that literal. I see gratefulness as choosing to accept with grace what we cannot control, rather than falling into bitterness and blame. Being cynical is no more authentic than going out on a limb and believing that there is meaning in even the smallest clean-up–but I do think the latter choice is certainly braver. Gratefulness.org is a nice place to start.

“The trivial experience of every day is always verifying some old prediction to us, and converting into things the words and signs which we had heard and seen without heed. A lady, with whom I was riding in the forest, said to me, that the woods always seemed to her to wait, as if the genii who inhabit them suspended their deeds until the wayfarer has passed onward: a thought which poetry has celebrated in the dance of the fairies, which breaks off on the approach of human feet. The man who has seen the rising moon break out of the clouds at midnight has been present like an archangel at the creation of light and of the world [my emphasis]. I remember one summer day, in the fields, my companion pointed out to me a broad cloud, which might extend a quarter of a mile parallel to the horizon, quite accurately in the form of a cherub as painted over churches, — a round block in the centre, which it was easy to animate with eyes and mouth, supported on either side by wide-stretched symmetrical wings. What appears once in the atmosphere may appear often, and it was undoubtedly the archetype of that familiar ornament. I have seen in the sky a chain of summer lightning which at once showed to me that the Greeks drew from nature when they painted the thunderbolt in the hand of Jove. I have seen a snow-drift along the sides of the stone wall which obviously gave the idea of the common architectural scroll to abut a tower.”

From Emerson’s “History” (from Essays: First Series (1841))

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