* * * * *
Dad greets my siblings and me at the door in his wheelchair. His unshaven face is creased with lines of worry.
“Hi dad, how are you?” I ask.
“I’d say I’m good.” He pauses and then adds, “Good as can be expected—as long as my expectations are not too high.” His honesty feels heavy and my smile becomes a sigh.
I walk into the living room and mom doesn’t try to get up from her recliner. “Hi mom, how are you?”
“No good. I’ve never felt this bad,” she says weakly.
Mom is surrounded by pillows and looks small and tired with translucent skin, tiny bones and sunken eyes. Several hours later she is hospitalized with atrial fibrillation and congestive heart failure. The timing of our visit, all my siblings being home, was one of those experiences that gives me pause—synchronicity that makes me ponder something bigger than myself. It certainly wasn’t the visit I expected.
* * * * *
As a kid I took swimming lessons at Bible Camp on Minnesota’s Shamineau Lake. I knew how to swim but wanted to learn endurance. The camp counselor who taught swimming believed that kids just needed to be pushed off the deep-end. I remember the lesson on treading water. If we tried to stop and grab ahold of the dock before the counselor said we could, he would step on our hands. During the class I thought I was going to drown yet somehow my thrashing skinny arms and legs kept me afloat. The last two weeks with my parents felt similar. I was in the deep-end and while no one was stepping on my hands, my internalized camp counselor was standing over me with his arms crossed. I did a lot of thrashing. The road to discovery isn’t all sunbeams and butterflies. It’s scary and hard.
I’ve always thought that love is an action word. During this trip home there were so many opportunities: hard conversations about “do not resuscitate” orders, constant rearranging of pillows, more blankets, less blankets, fetching ice chips, lip balm, the search for the illusive “just right” volume for the “Higher Power” CD, deciphering medical information and jargon, preparing meals, trying to get the house ready (hopefully) for mom’s return by downsizing my dad’s treasures (using a teaspoon when a bulldozer was needed), listening and collaborating with dad’s obsession about a different refrigerator, kitchen table, electric skillet, countless hours in the hospital, getting dad in and out of his wheelchair, and the “pièce de résistance” the constant journey with dad’s failing colostomy bag. Many times it didn’t feel like love. Many times it felt like the water might take me down. What began as an act of love became something else. I was treading water—longing for the dock and just trying to stay afloat.
This morning during my meditation I received a gift--discovered a way to reframe love’s journey—a way to forgive. I get frustrated and sometimes disillusioned when love turns into an expectation, resentment, a commodity, or a transaction—when the purity of love’s first imagination somehow becomes distorted with action. Here’s my discovery—love is not the action (although action can be loving) love is the breath before the action. As such if we get lost, all we have to do is return to our breath.
Daily Bites and Blessings
Welcome to "Daily Bites and Blessings." Pull up a chair. I’ve set a place for you at the table. These edibles are sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet and often they are both. This is a come as you are party. I invite you to bring your compassion, courage, and curiosity as we dine together on life's bounty. May our time together give us more light and more love.