I’ve been spending a lot of time in the hospital, lately. There’s a whole different rhythm to hospitals. Time is measured in meds, and IV bags, and other people’s TV shows. And worry. And swallowed impatience.
I commented on a thread on Gwen Bell’s Google+ page today. She asked: “Tell me something about yourself. (Like: What are you learning about yourself right now? Like: What’s moving you? Growing you? Like: What’s asking you to be a little more tender?)”
I love Gwen’s questions, because they inspire or prompt me to look deeply, with fresh eyes, at my actions and beliefs. In this case, my answer was clear and almost instantaneous:
“Something I am remembering about myself right now (that is also asking me to be a little more tender): I am very comfortable (patient, caring, attentive and helpful) with seniors and sick people.
“Nearly a week ago I was at a meeting at a seniors’ residence, and helped one of the residents with her walker after the meeting. A simple act – all she needed was her walker brought over to her. But it was a strangely profound experience for me, accompanied by a kinesthetic memory of doing the same actions many, many times before. (My first paying job as a teenager was working in a nursing home. I was also a candystriper at a local hospital, and for several years was self-employed in a service industry where I frequently came into one-on-one contact with seniors. I have not worked with seniors or sick people for several years, however.)
“Then yesterday I visited a loved one in the hospital, and was surprised by what a calm, touching experience it was. Hospitals don’t freak me out the way they do some people (probably thanks to the whole candystriper thing), but I’m not necessarily good at making conversation with people who are unwell. In this case, however, what was really needed was a little personal care. I rubbed lotion on his back and limbs, to soothe his itching skin. I fetched him some ice chips (he’s currently nbm). I sorted out all his tubes and bags and took him for a walk. All of it was so strange and familiar at the same time.
“He was so thankful when I was done. I was so thankful that these things came so easily – that my body could remember things I’d forgotten I knew…”
In yoga we work with the “edge” – the place where a pose becomes uncomfortable. Working with the edge teaches me how to work with other edges in my life – the places where relationships become uncomfortable, or my work becomes uncomfortable, or my thoughts and emotions become uncomfortable, or my habits become uncomfortable. I’m often a whimpering coward when it comes to working with edges, though. Just saying. I don’t like pain.
I visited my loved one at the hospital again today. He was sitting up, waiting for me, eager to repeat yesterday’s “massage.” (Funny: for me the experience was simply “rubbing lotion on his skin.” For him, apparently, it was something much greater.)
I wasn’t as present with him today as I was yesterday. Yesterday, it was all uncertain and new. I could only wait and respond to what was needed. Today I expected (and was expected) to repeat yesterday’s magic. And somehow it wasn’t as magical (at least for me).
My edge, today, was my awareness of the nakedness of his need. He needed help getting a tissue. He needed help cleaning his glasses. He needed help checking his phone. He needed help getting more ice. He needed someone to touch him with healing intention, and love. He needed help using the toilet. He needed help going for a walk around his floor. He needed his hand held. He needed help pushing the little-blue-sponge-toothbrush-thingy to the bottom of his styrofoam cup of ice, so that it would soak up the precious few drops of water he was allowed to put in his mouth. He needed to know that his needs weren’t too many for me to help him with.
They weren’t too many. But having met all his asked-for needs, I rushed off to let him sleep – afraid of all the unasked-for needs I couldn’t hear. I don’t know what tomorrow holds for him. I don’t know what they’re going to find. I don’t know if he’s going to be okay. I don’t know if this afternoon was the last time I will ever see him.
There’s a hymn I used to love singing in church, although I could never make it through all the verses without choking up and having to stop. It’s called The Servant Song. I heard it today in my head as I drove home from the hospital.
We are pilgrims on a journey,
fellow travellers on the road;
we are here to help each other
walk the mile and bear the load.
I will hold the Christ-light for you
in the nighttime of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you,
speak the peace you long to hear.
I will weep when you are weeping,
when you laugh, I’ll laugh with you;
I will share your joy and sorrow
till we’ve seen this journey through.
Brother, let me be your servant,
let me be as Christ to you;
pray that I may have the grace
to let you be my servant too.
That last line is a killer. “Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.” That’s another edge I withdraw from…
This morning I made a list of things I wanted to do today. I don’t normally make to-do lists, but I was feeling scattered.
* visit —–
* x-mas card blog post
The list was supposed to remind me of what was important. So I tended to the compost when I got home from the hospital.
There is a compost bin behind my apartment building. I don’t think anyone else uses it but me. I compost all my kitchen waste – and there’s a lot of it lately, since I’ve been eating a mostly raw food diet.
Funny, he was the one who taught me about compost. And about the rhythm of the seasons – the outdoor tasks for spring, summer, and fall. The composter is nearly full, and I know that when the freezing weather comes, the process of decomposition will grind to a halt until spring. I wanted to make sure there was room in the composter for all my winter waste.
I pried off the two covers at the base of the black plastic bin, and started scooping out dark brown humus with my kitty litter scoop. (I KNOW. At least it’s a really good scoop, okay? I paid a lot of money for it. It’s strong.)
I managed to get out about two buckets’ worth of brown mud. I slid the covers back on the bin. Then I worked down from the top, using my winter snow shovel to dig out layer after layer of progressively muckier rotting fruit and vegetables, in an attempt to get down far enough so that I could push the compost down into the spaces I’d just emptied.
It smelled awful. But it was beautiful.
Compost is a living ecosystem. I saw ants on the very top. (The fruit flies that had been omnipresent all summer died with the recent frost.) Near the middle of the pile I found earthworms. Juicy, plump, wriggling. They eat the decomposing organic matter, and their poop makes nutritious food for plants.
After I finished shovelling everything back in the composter (and gently relocated a few stray worms), I spread the humus on the nearby flowerbeds. Lilies of the valley and peonies will grow there next spring and summer. As I passed my hand over the humus to smooth it, I had a flashback of my palms rubbing soothing lotion over itchy skin.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about sacred activities and ritual. About the intersection of the mundane and the holy. About purification, transformation… and shit.
There’s a blessing I perform on my apartment whenever I am about to have guests. (I also do it sometimes for myself, but this particular blessing is primarily for welcoming outsiders into my home.) I wander through each room with incense, blessing each of the four corners with a different intention. “Bless everyone who enters this place.” “Bless their intentions.” “Bless their creativity.” “Bless their relationships.”
As I leave my kitchen, I say, “Bless our elimination, which gives back to the Universe that which we don’t need.” By my back door, I say, “Bless the shadow, which makes us whole.”
Another person in my Google+ circles posted this a day or two ago:
“Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust. You couldn’t be here if stars hadn’t exploded, because the elements – the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, all the things that matter for evolution and for life – weren’t created at the beginning of time. They were created in the nuclear furnaces of stars, and the only way for them to get into your body is if those stars were kind enough to explode.
“So, forget Jesus. The stars died so that you could be here today.”
(I never did get around to doing my dreamwork, or finishing my Christmas card blog post. But I did manage to edit some photos for it, including this one, above.)
©2011, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow. All rights reserved.