In Difficult Times, Stay Close To The Bone

The timing of an event can illuminate its meaning. The day we turned the clock back an hour, and two days before the election, my 80 year old mother fell during a vigorous walk and broke her left arm. She still commutes to an intellectually demanding full-time job she’s held for 36 years. The episode fractured her routine and independence. Because I have been staying at her house in recent months while navigating my own challenging life transition, the accident further perturbed my uncertain world.

Within minutes, I became a caregiver to a person with whom I share close quarters even though we have not been particularly close. At times, she and I have either been painfully estranged and not communicating for long periods or trapped in a cycle of mutual misunderstanding, disappointment and heartbreak, unable to find a peaceful detente let alone rapport for more than short periods. The sudden role reversal, accompanied by a thunk in my chest, felt like being thrust into a crucible, one that my soul and growth require.

On election day I helped her into the car, fastened her seatbelt and drove her to an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon. He offered good news: she would not need surgery. Still, he explained that the location of the break, the upper humerus, meant healing would be slow. She probably would not recover full range of motion. Despite the pain, she’d need to move her arm as it dangled from the shoulder socket to keep the joint mobile and prevent her elbow from stiffening. Dark, unsightly bruises might form along her arm and hand.

That night neither of us watched the election returns. The broken bone and its implications were plenty to absorb, especially after months of infuriating political news that had saturated my psyche and prompted me to expedite a new passport and purchase a laptop backpack in case I decided to leave, for a shorter or longer period, something I’ve done in the past. Still, my mother mentioned before we went to bed that even if Donald Trump won, life would go on. People would still get up, go to work, and live their lives. Her comment didn’t stop me from wailing and weeping the next morning when I learned he’d been elected.

As I run errands, prepare food, organize and cut pills, adjust my mother’s sling, use my training in the Feldenkrais Method to assist her with movement and try to make her comfortable, rearrange things in the house, and take care of some logistics, I have been forced to live more fully in the fluid, unpredictable here and now. Rather than rail against my current role, or wallow in envy at my friends who recently left for a year of adventure travel, I’ve chosen to accept this turn of events. In a sense, I have been preparing for a scenario like this for years while, simultaneously, hoping it would never come to pass. I’ve had a daily meditation practice for nearly a decade. I’ve attended many silent retreats where I am bound to a schedule not of my choosing, to rules another has set, to assigned rather than chosen tasks, and where I’m required to sit with discomfort rather than run away or distract myself. I’ve listened to umpteen spiritual podcasts and read many books that boil down to much the same thing: Slow down. Be with what is arising in the moment. Do one thing at a time. Poet David Whyte says it best:

“Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.”

Yet, such sane, life affirming guidance has often been dismissed by my monkey mind that is often 10 steps ahead of this moment. As a restless and idealistic person, I’ve been attracted if not addicted to the idea of bold action and dramatic change, and periodically I’ve enacted gigantic life moves, as if that would permanently shake the cobwebs from my soul. Indeed, it was my latest attempt to radically reorganize my life in a relatively short amount of time that precipitated my need to rest and regroup at my mother’s house while continuing to write and pursue my studies of the Feldenkrais Method.

We are now living with darker days, with the sun disappearing before 4:30pm. Since I’ve recommitted to spending time outdoors each day for my own wellbeing, I have to manage my schedule more wisely. Without much internal agonizing, I’ve cut my involvement on social media to the bone. I don’t have the time or energy to immerse myself in post-election commentary and discussion, as necessary and compelling as it is. At this moment of upheaval, it’s a relief to have someone else’s needs to focus on and to perform mundane tasks, rather than losing myself online.

In a strange way, my mother’s accident happened at the perfect time, a wake up call that forced me to take a closer look at my daily habits and, also, where I focus my attention, including when I interact with her. I’ve discovered that, in her moment of need I have become more of a Nurse Nelly than the Nurse Ratched of my imagination. I’ve been able to summon a greater amount of willingness instead of willfulness, although that still surfaces. I try not to allow yesterday’s irritations and frustrations bleed into today, and to forgive myself when they do. Perhaps as the bone heals, so will other aspects of our connection, even if the process involves some bruising if not fracturing of ideas I’ve long held about her and myself.

Many people in this country are learning in a gut wrenching way, perhaps for the first time, that things can change in an instant, that the clock of progress can be turned back overnight. Many feel bruised, broken, or deeply wounded by the tenor of the race and, especially, the result. We are all in the crucible of this moment.

We need to remain limber and not stiffen or harden in resistance or rage, which just begets more of the same. Regrouping could take time, and we might have to adjust our lives and commit to new actions as we integrate our responses to the election into our sense of selves. We must grow, in one way or another. We can can lend a hand to those who normally push our buttons, or otherwise challenge ourselves to do something unfamiliar if not disconcerting to stretch ourselves.

The spiritual advice I had trouble embodying for years and have only recently begun to (imperfectly) internalize still applies, however one chooses to respond to current events. Be with what is arising. Do one thing at a time. Give it your full attention. And, I’d add, speak the truth. Stay close to the bone.

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