Sunday, January 22, 2006

Shifting Ground

Wow! Remind me to always qualify any announcements of what I'll be doing at any point with some tentative disclaimer such as "I'm planning" or "I hope to" or as my grandmother was apt to say "God willing".

My keychains went to the aspirant dinner without me.

My husband's Dad had died a couple of days ago and due to a cemetery scheduling issue (!) was not to be waked until today and buried tomorrow. My husband decided to keep a doctors appointment on Friday for which he had waited a long time. He left the house at 930 am but hardly 10 minutes later I was listening to the adrenaline-charged voice of a bodhisattva who had witnessed his car careening off the side of the highway and bothered to stop and get my cell phone number. He gave me the location and added that I should "get up there" because "he's in bad shape".

No problem. My specialty...rushing.

My car ride was a study in observing my mind. Breathe, breathe, breathe, I chanted...then breathe slower, breathe slower as my face began to tingle. Clutching my cell phone, "Who can I call?", and the awful thought..."No one." It would seem too cruel to ask anyone to merely accompany me in my terror. It seems that there are these moments in life when we are just alone and the ground is sliding around below our feet, or worse, sinking. Pema Chodron says that it's an illusion that we think we can ever stand on solid ground. We can't.

The good news is that as I approached the scene of flashing lights and neon striped emergency workers I could see my husband through the eerie picture frame of twisted metal created by the sunroof of the car on its side, holding his hand to his head, moving therefore breathing. It took nearly an hour to extricate him as I stood breathing my gratitude for the entire scene, especially the very capable, very young people who are willing to do this for a living. My husband's Dad had been a firefighter and it was a curious thing that at one point when I asked to approach the car to let him know I was there, my husband's bloody hand wobbled out a pile of papers and folders to me, mong them his Dad's funeral and insurance papers. On top, covered with glass but in perfect condition was his father's plaque commemorating his many decades of service in the fire department. I couldn't help but think it represented some kind of very good karma as I held it like a shield across my heart.

The rest of the 2 day hospital tale is a mix of kindness and caring alongside frustration and waiting and things being lost and misunderstood: more opportunities for patience and compassion than should be allowed. The diagnoses at the end of the trail of scans and exams include a concussion, contusions, a stable vertebral fracture, and a Herman Munster-like gash in the forehead. The hard part is that though home now, my husband is badly injured, barely able to walk, and will miss his Dad's services today and likely tomorrow. My heart aches for the nearly 50 year old man who so badly wants to see his Dad one last time. I think about how I coaxed him from his father's bedside the night he stayed with his Dad as he died, with the words, "You'll get to say good-bye again". I didn't add, "God willing."

I know it's just more shifting ground and turn to my teacher Thay's instructions for answers to the question "What can I do?" And I find some. In between the dressing changes, and pill dispensing, and efforts to prop pillows I sit and breathe. As best I can be, I am present.

More opportunities to practice. God willing, I will.

Authentic Kindness of the Heart


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