My 93 year old mother and I had a chat at her kitchen table today. Mom was complaining that she wasn’t getting well fast enough. She was going on and on about being so tired she just couldn’t stand it and then she went through an extensive list of grievances that she had about things dad had done or not done, the neighbors lack of interest in her life, etc. “Mom, you have two ways of being when you are awake”; I said, “one is that you are dying, can’t even open your eyes, and are impatient for it all to be over; and the other one is that you’re angry at yourself and everyone else because you aren’t getting better fast enough.” Those are the two tensions in my mother’s life today. Needing to get well again so she can renew the activities that gave her life meaning, and believing that she is dying is the fear of becoming irrelevant. I don’t say anything to her about any of that, of course. I told my mother that there is a middle place called ‘being at peace with what is’; having acceptance, and being willing to surrender. I told her that is what she has to practice every day and when she finds that Peace she can go to Heaven because she will be finished here. My mother looked at me and said, “I didn’t say I wanted to leave just yet!”, as if I had been a fool for even thinking such a thing! God, I love that woman! I went on to let her know that as she masters going inward to that peaceful center it wouldn’t matter if she was here or in Heaven, she would just know she was safe and loved and that her life still had meaning. “Well,” she said, I get there every once in a while”. I don’t know how much of this conversation my mom actually understood, but she did go off to take a nap.
When I got home from my ‘job’ at my parents’, I took a much needed break. As I began to relax, the image of a question, “What do your primary tensions look like in your life, Mary Lynn?” popped into my mind. As I sat in this quieter space, the image of two vertical vibrating lines appeared in my mind and I recognized them as the two tensions I live between. The need to live a purposeful life, and the fear of becoming irrelevant. Ah ha! Just like mom’s. (We know that is no coincidence.) The balance I find between these two poles is in finding the ‘center’, that part of me which knows connection to God and others, balance, serenity, peace and beauty as well as my shadow side. The goal is finding that peace one day at a time. Sometimes I get there, sometimes I don’t, but the more I practice the better I am at it.
I think this is the part mom missed; finding her center, owning her shadow. Mom never had the awareness that her body would age. She was aghast when, “just over night” she became incontinent. She never saw it coming. She had been a femme fatale all the way up to the day she discovered she was old. That was about three years ago at age ninety. Mom is beginning to accept just some of the realities of her life though. Today, as the family was gathering for my father’s 94th Birthday, I was helping her get dressed and asked her what she wanted to wear. She thought about this for a long moment and then looked up at me and with every intention of getting her way and said: “Something seductive”! Right! “Mom,” I said, “Just who is it you plan on seducing, my husband or yours?” Again, mom thought about this for a long moment and then looked up with a twinkle in her eye and said, “My husband!” I knew she was lying and she knew I knew it. Mom came out to the living room a bit later with her new top on, lipstick, eyebrows and blush. Mom still has a way to go but she is having a hell of a good time on the good days.
Perhaps it is the fear of death, the fear of becoming irrelevant that keeps us alive and searching for meaning in our lives. Mom always said that her greatest fear is that she will become a burden on her children, but I don’t believe that is true. I think that narrative keeps her from discovering underlying fears before she is ready to confront them. If I can do anything for her, I hope it is to help her find meaning in the life she is living today. Doing so is a creative process and it can manifest as a context of peace from which to live our next moment. It is this creative process which empowers us to release our deepest fears and strengthens our faith in ourselves, in God and in others. Mom still has time to learn how to master those tensions and find the balance that creates peace. As she said, she gets there every once in a while.