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It’s never taken much to rattle me: chasing a newspaper tossed by winds, spilling food on my shirt, breaking a dish, irritating construction noises, hurt feelings, arthritic flare-ups, and so much more. Beneath such experiences lurk pride and anger, instincts-on-rampage that sour my attitude, until acknowledged and dealt with in the Twelve Steps. Clearly, I’m not in control, despite my illusory leanings.

Another way of handing such scrapes with the real is the art of mindful living, explained by Eunice the hospice chaplain during our weekly meetings. An adherent of the Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn, she outlined its three imperatives: stop, look deeply within, and act with compassion—simple, but not impossible to practice in the dailyness of our lives.

But how to stop when it feels like funneling cyclones are whipping mercilessly at psyches? When wild stallions gallop toward a kill? Such crassness appears bent on annihilation, but that’s not the case. Stop, voiced in loud tones, shakes free the illusory stranglehold: breathing and some normalcy return.

Once in stillness, take stock. Look within—deeply. Befriend the wounds, measure the energy loss, assimilate new awareness, and accept the altered configuration of the psyche. Become familiar with it: place of the next upheaval and more psychic growth. Such suffering softens hearts to love others in their full humanness in which we share.

Then, act with compassion toward others and ourselves. Such overtures embroider color-designs of vibrancy. Within them dwells the Sacred, the artist of our eternal salvation.

These three simple steps of mindfulness do work if practiced, per Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn.

“Happy Birthday, dear Mary, Happy Birthday to you!” A glow suffused the eyes of her extended family gathered around the dining room table covered with a Christmas cloth. In front of her, five striped candles flamed atop the chocolate Bundt cake dribbled with white icing. As she filled her lungs and blew, exclamations splintered the hush and conversations picked up.

“We’ve got several flavors of ice cream and decaf coffee to go with the cake,” said Karen, as she smoothed loose strands of hair behind her ear and picked up the cake plate. “The grandkids will take orders.” But they were no longer kids, having matured into young adults, two of whom were planning weddings in 2020.

Decades of such birthdays had been celebrated in Mary’s home, with hand-made frosted cakes bedecked with sprinkles, gaily-wrapped gifts and hugs. Conversations buzzed, bonding deepened, spirits embellished as evenings evaporated within time’s memory. As always, she missed Tom, my brother.

Mary’s involvement with her growing family also extended beyond birthdays and other milestones to include overnights, movies, lunches, and athletic competitions. Her heartfelt smile affirmed their efforts to grow. She was their Nama.

Now in her eighty-fifth year, Mary’s widowed spirit faces daunting challenges: her convalescing from hip surgery, her recent downsizing, her diminishing energy. But no matter, she still dresses to the nines and participates in whatever engages her. Daily Mass in her parish remains her lodestone: the fire that inflames her spirit, keeps it willing and sacrificial. She remains the cheerful woman for others.

I know. I, too have been included around those birthday tables.


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