Alzheimer's disease · Caregiver · Caregiving · Everyday · Transcendence · Writing

Quotidian / August 20, 2006

Today was one of those flat summer days–flannel-colored sky and spongy air. I usually wake up on Sunday morning with a list of chores that should have been done on Saturday, and today was no different. Yesterday was a washout because my “post-traumatic” migraine (entirely expected) kept me out of the sunshine and in my own brooding shadow all day. So today I got up and set to doing the bill-paying, clothes-washing and house-cleaning that I had put off.

But first I had to establish what day it was for my mother, who invariably believes that Saturday is Sunday, and Sunday is Monday. We have this conversation each and every week. Once that’s settled, she tells me that she can no longer walk–usually after wandering in and out of the kitchen and bathroom several times and then making her bed. I give her her pills and her cane and remind her that she has to begin the day slowly, then I make those cinnamon buns that come in the tube, which perks her up immediately.

“Where are all the dogs?” I hear her ask, and I sigh.

“Mom, Dustin died.”

“I know that, but where are the others?” We try to establish which dogs she means, a conversation that wilts pretty quickly.

“Where’s Daddy?”

“It’s just you and me, today,” I say. I’m getting better at the evasive reply.

“I thought he was just here.”

“Not today.”

She looks puzzled for a few moments. I ask her if she’d like to look at the Sunday paper but she says no, and within fifteen minutes has slumped over, asleep, on the couch.

I shower and dress, check my email, and then begin to clean the bathroom. Here is where something mildly remarkable occurs. I spritz Chlorox cleanser over the bathroom sink and counter, and tear several sheets of paper towelling from the roll. Before wiping the sink I notice that the paper towel has a pattern printed on it–nothing memorable, just some floral designs. But on every other sheet is also printed a quotation, and I expect to read the usual banal/inspirational sentiment. The sheet I had pulled, however, had a quote from Katherine Mansfield:

“Everything in life that we really accept undergoes a change.”

What??! I stood there and stared at the paper towel, surprised and a little thrilled to find such philosophical resonance on a household cleaning product. Could this be? And what did it mean?

First of all, Katherine Mansfield was one of my writing teachers. Not literally, of course, but the first “real” English teacher I had in high school assigned us Mansfield’s story “Miss Brill” to read. It affected me profoundly, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I remember leaving myself behind as I read the story–it took me somewhere else and then brought me back. Her photograph accompanied the text–probably the most reproduced photo of her, in profile, her hair pinned up untidily–and I stared at this woman as if I’d known her from somewhere and then carried the image away with me.

Years later I made a study of her fiction, her letters and her short life. She grew up in New Zealand before moving to London, where she lived on the periphery of the Bloomsbury Group and moved warily around the likes of Virginia Woolf and D.H. Lawrence. She was inspired by Chekhov, and her fiction is like layers and layers of different colored tissue paper pressed together to create a deceptively simple picture of a deep moment in time. Her subject matter is not “plot-driven” as much as it is revealed, through details of gesture and clothing. Although not the intellect that Woolf was, Mansfield was the more gifted writer of fiction.

So having her “speak” to me by way of a paper towel… Well, how could I not stop and relish the absurdity and the timeliness of it?

“Everything in life that we really accept undergoes a change.”

What does this mean? Do things change as a result of our accepting them? Do we change them by accepting them? Or is change the reminder to us that acceptance is a momentary act–a brief one-ness before we continue on our separate ways? Or is acceptance and change the inevitable progress of life, the cause and effect of mindful living?

Or maybe someone at the Sparkle paper towel factory was gently reprimanding those of us who only clean our bathrooms periodically?

No. I’ve decided that this little experience was, at the very least, a reminder of how the “quotidian” can wink at us, pull back the curtain for a second, and then let it drop before we can catch our breath. There are surprises in the most mundane moments of the day, just as the most tumultuous happenings can seem mundane.

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