Losing & Powerlessness
I look out at Hermits Peak in New Mexico glowing fantastically in early day light. I let my eyes relax. My natural gaze, not reaching or glazing, just my eyes relaxing on this vision, leaning my visual capacity against the beauty. The wind swirls around me, sweet with the rain that tamped down the dust yesterday. Having the morning quiet to feel my eyes look and see, because so often they scan what is there and trigger it into what isn’t there, or take a shard of something– a table edge or a pine tree, for instance — and turn it into another tree from another time, mixing the two trees into one tree rather than just seeing what is right there, the one tree waving with shadows sneaking down between the needles where a small bird shelters and thinks about life, about the day, about how her wing curves so neatly along her side, ready to lift her up and up just now as the impulse takes her toward a glisten of water over flit flit there…
My eyes are shuttered many days, many minutes. My body is blind as well. It lives in habit, even mine that is well schooled in awareness. Our habits are much of what we are…
This is a poignant thought as I think about my father. He is so familiar to me. But what is he? He gestures in a way I know in my bones but I realize it is mostly automatic. Is that him? In all my life, even before his stroke, the moments when he has been really present with me are few. Mostly we have had hours and hours of lovely side-by-side conversation, words which catch and connect like two dancers in an English Country Dance meeting and smiling and touching before being whisked off down the line by other partners. That is how our words work. His mind and my mind touch briefly, we continue talking but we each worm silently down interior channels of thought, keeping our train of self going while bouncing out loud off one another. In this way we keep one another company, and from time to time actually listen to one another and actually feel heard. It is enough. It is attention but not too much. We protect one another, each of us needing a certain amount of intellectual privacy within the context of companionship.
Now, after his stroke, I don’t know if he and I make intellectual contact. We do, however, keep one another company.
Of course I am away from him now. I needed to step back, to breathe and regroup. I woke in the middle of last night, sat up on one hip, then the other, and undulated my spine, my free arm waving like a heavy reed in the dark space. It was a dance, a dance waking me up telling me I am down from the high horse of trauma where my father, mother and I have been perched for six weeks. All three of us occupy different bedrooms in different buildings in different towns, resting, being cared for, my parents by caregivers, and me by the wind and earth and the light on Hermits Peak.
His stroke is trauma. We three have PTSD. I see this in all the patients and families at the rehab centers, and the nurses and social workers all remark that this is so. A small bomb falls in the center of a family’s dinner table. The table is there after all, but the people are not. My body vibrated, the limbs curling in around my belly, my breath tight and fast. Panic. Seeing my father, who I love so, in his terror and not being to help, to solace, to reassure, was that dreaded combination of losing and powerless at once. These are dark demons. These rumble in the basement of every psyche. They power the engine of avoidance, of denial, habitualness. We never want to feel these demons. Being able to look and see Hermits Peak, or at least try to see it is a measure of my own stress backing down just enough, just enough…
My question is how much of my life, and your life, can be present and non-habitual? I am learning that it is not only the cultivation of attention that allows us to be present, though this certainly helps. We also must turn toward our demons when they rise and invite them in. Come, ravage me. Losing and powerless are two huge demons that most of us have the great opportunity, one way or another, to experience. As I stretch my heart around mine, I feel that my life now has its foundation. It no longer floats in happy thin air. It has landed.
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