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Something red flickered, gentling the branch of the viburnum shrub outside my study window: It was the cardinal, its feathered crest bespeaking authority. Mesmerized, I sought its spirit. For a split second, turned inside out in riotous colors, it happened. Then, I was alone, the branch slick with raindrops still trembling from its visitor.

I had been visited. Its import would be revealed. I’d just have to listen.

Earlier in the morning, I wondered whether I was still eligible for hospice, given Medicare’s second benefit period winding down. I was still performing my ADLs, albeit more slowly, still managing with helpers in my home, still content with new learning each twenty-four hours. Yet imperceptibly, I was still losing ground. The steroid, at first helpful with my symptoms, was less effective, rendering me weak and lightheaded. Breathing still limited my endurance, increased my need to pace myself, and messed with coughing up phlegm during the day.

“Of course, Liz, you still meet the criteria for hospice,” Alice said later as she wrapped the blood pressure cuff around my upper arm. “We’ve also gotten to know you these past months—you’re doing very well—and you know to call us whenever you need help with personal care.” Often, she had offered this additional service. I brightened with her words, seeping into vestiges of denial still lurking within my psyche’s depths.

So again it was about acceptance, deeper than previously experienced. I felt its sweet release. This was working out, literally one day at a time. I only had to show up and keep an eye out for the cardinal, my backyard companion and teacher.

 

“If you love the truth, be a lover of silence. Silence like the sun will illuminate you in God.”—a trenchant saying attributed to Isaac the Syrian, the seventh-century Bishop, theologian, and monk who the Eastern Orthodox Church regards as a saint.

Simple words, if pondered, reveal the unseen caught in the flux of time. Key to this process is passion, whose firelight, like the sun, ignites inner worlds. But who cares to go there? To discipline unruly instincts clamoring for expression? That would be like dying. Such flies in the face of our cultural mores, engulfed in denial and rationalization. The predictable is more comfortable, yet soulless.

It does not take much to see who is truly alive among us: their quickening gaze, their resonant voices, their authority, of whatever age and background.

That’s what happens when you sit in the fire. It works…

“And what color will your outfit be?” Dad asked of his women: Mother, my sister Martha, and me, days before our annual June vacation. Our trunks had already been shipped to their destination. Excitement mounted as last suitcases were snapped shut; as the truck from Kruse Florist rumbled up the circle drive and delivered three corsages, each with our names; as Dad beamed in the taxi taking us to Union Station and the train.

Once inside our compartment, I floated my corsage in the brass sink in hopes of preserving its beauty. As hours passed, I checked its color, its freshness, but to no avail. Even then, I had no tolerance for deterioration and death.

Why such abhorrence of death, integral to all life forms, including ours? Again, Dr. Singh addresses this question in The Grace in Dying. It has to do with life and death, the Second of the Four Dualisms that an infant confronts in the development of his/her mental ego. Rather than be swamped by the unknowability of death, he sets a critical boundary behind which life continues unfolding on a manageable scale: the size of a postage stamp, per Dr. Singh. Only when threatened by terminal illness or significant losses does death cower over us.

Thus begins the necessary dismantling of the mental ego with the dissolution of the other Dualisms: self and not-self, mind and body split, and the acceptable and unacceptable, each having served their purpose. Central to this purifying process is the Ground of Being, or God, with whom the individual is preparing to remerge, with full consciousness. Bliss follows.

 

 

 

Yet, I still feel uneasy tossing out five-day-old tulips, their blooms withered, their leaves faded, their stems meandering.

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