“Hold tenderly to who you are and let a deeper knowing
colour the shape of your humanness.
There is nowhere to go.
What you are looking for is right here.
Open the fist clenched in wanting and see what you already hold in your hand.
There is no waiting for something to happen,
no point in the future to get to.
All you have ever longed for is here in this moment,
~ The Call – Oriah Mountain Dreamer ~
I am grateful to my mother. I am grateful to her for bringing me into this world almost at the cost of her own life. I am grateful to her for the sacrifices that she has made for me throughout my life. But I am especially grateful to her for the lessons that she has taught me.
I think that she would flip her lid, if she were to find out that I am opening her up to scrutiny on the internet – she is an extremely private person. But I need to, and I would like to, because there was a moment in time where I learned and experienced a couple of deeply profound lessons, through her own life experience and the questions that she grappled with. They have undoubtedly influenced the truth that I embrace and live my life from today. I cannot help but reiterate that I am deeply grateful to her for this.
She was diagnosed, a couple of years ago, with a medical condition that put her in a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ predicament. Without a doubt, if left unattended to, it would have eventually led to death. The issue however, is that it was such a rarity, that her case was presented to a panel of experts, in order to determine whether there was something that could be done to remedy the situation. This meant that there were a lot of risks involved, if she were to be operated on. A member of the panel stepped forward and volunteered to risk performing corrective surgery on her. There was an unspoken agreement between all parties concerned, that her surgery came with very little guarantees.
My mother does not allow herself to express the ‘touchy-feely’ element to her human reality. Over and above this, she is a proud woman and tends to not want to ‘burden’ anybody. As I personally tried to come to grips with the situation, I couldn’t ignore that she lived her life from those two places, and therefore knew that behind her poker face was a woman trying to come to grips with her mortality and the subsequent fears that go along with it.
I also knew that she needed a lifeline, by being given the opportunity to express these things to another person. But how was I to do it? She doesn’t do ‘touchy-feely’ and she doesn’t like feeling as if she is being a burden on anyone. And even more importantly than this, how do I get her to ‘go there’ without turning her into a basket case in the process?
It took a bit of discernment before I was able to come up with a way of giving her the opportunity to “go there” while making it unthreatening, and allowing her to decide whether she wanted to vocalize her fears and emotions or not. I visited her and in the midst of our discussions surrounding her upcoming operation, I casually told her that even the bravest of hearts would shy away from what she was going through…and that it was okay. I can’t say for certain that it came across as being casual because I remember earnestly fighting back my tears.
There was a momentary flash of fear in her eyes which was followed by a flash of acknowledgement. The only response that she could offer was a surprised, “REALLY?!” I reassured her that it really was okay; that I’d want to run for the hills if I were in her shoes. And then there was a period of silence while she looked at me and her face spelled out each and every emotion that she had been harbouring inside the secret places of her heart. Fear. Anxiety. Uncertainty. Pain. Fear. Insecurity. Doubt. More fear. Fear by the bucketload. And then there was relief. It was as if her body had sighed and released all of these emotions that had been weighing her down, and with it came the ability for her to find ways to come to terms with what lay ahead of her, and to prepare herself for it.
The day of her surgery arrived. She went into theater in the early hours of that evening. Her operation lasted over eight hours – complications! I was weary to the bone as I drove home in the early hours of the morning. I was unable to sleep with worry. I called first thing after getting up to find out how she was doing. They told me that she was stable. I then went through to see her in the intensive care unit. Nothing in this world could have prepared me for what was waiting for me.
The specialist on duty briefed me before I went to her side. Her vitals were stable but she was far from being out of the woods – the slightest thing could make everything go pear shaped. In short, her life was hanging by a thread. Even this brief couldn’t (and didn’t) prepare me for what lay before my eyes. The once vital woman that had raised me and appeared to be invincible, had been reduced to a barely living being. She looked like she had suffered a stroke because of her face pulling to the left. She looked frail and physically vulnerable. Her heartbeat was steady but slow. My mother had been reduced to a rumpled mass of barely living flesh! I was horrified. And even more than this, I was terrified!
Being caught off guard meant that I had no time to persuade my emotions to obey my resolve. My mother’s eyes met mine. They widened with shock. The blip of her heartbeat on the machine that she was attached to, made me realize that the look in my eyes had made her aware of just how dire her situation was. Within seconds, an alarm went off and I was shuffled aside while the specialist and a team of nurses surrounded her, in order to stabilise her heart. I felt as if I had failed her and that I had subsequently put her wellbeing at risk. I spun around and I fled out of ICU feeling angry with myself…ashamed of myself.
As I ran, it felt as if my emotions had turned into a stone that was lodged inside my throat, making my eyes sting until I started to tear up. Pressure mounting inside of my head as well as my heart. I ran until I found the doors to the chapel. I entered it and was fortunate enough to be on my own. I remember saying aloud, “Hello God. This is David.” (cue: God snapping His fingers while saying, “hello John….er Simon….Paul? Who are you, boy? And don’t lie to Me, because I WILL find out and then you will be in trouble!”) This was the sum and total of what I cannot even consider to be a prayer. As those words left my lips, the stone dislodged itself from my throat and I crumbled. I burst into tears and I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed, slowly seating myself in one of the pews, before burying my face in my hands and sobbing some more. I eventually managed to compose myself and advised all of my siblings that it would be best if they prepared themselves for the worst.
My mother’s journey of ailing from a medical condition to undergoing surgery, to having her life hang in the balance and culminating with a full recovery and new lease of life, has taught me that there is birth and there is death, and in-between is ‘in the meantime.’ Nothing more than just ‘in the meantime,’ and if one is fortunate enough, then there will be several years of this. I have been able to expand upon this truth, with time, by saying that it validates the adage: ‘it’s about the journey and not the destination.’ Life happens in the midst of our planning. The only fundamental truth about life that we can all hold onto with certainty, is that it will come to an end someday.
And to build upon this even more, since we’re seekers of the truth…of OUR truth, then the questions are of much greater value and importance than the answers. The questions that we ask ourselves are signposts which encourage us to learn, grow and transcend, as we go about our daily rounds. But without a doubt, we are not static and neither is life. Life is ‘in the meantime’. WE are ‘in the meantime.’
I have learned that FEAR can either represent:
Facing things down.
Evaluating the situation.
Assessing how I am able deal with it.
Resolving to stick to my plan of action.
or it can mean:
Fleeing from the truth.
Escaping the situation (to the best of my ability).
Allowing myself to constantly be in denial. (...and wait for it…)
The biggest lesson that I have learned is epitomized by, and best expressed through the words of Leo Buscaglia PhD:
Death is a continuous beautiful process of life. Then when you have seen it, you don’t fear it. Death is a good friend, an awfully good friend, because it tells us we don’t have forever and that to live is now; therefore, you see how precious every minute is. We read it and say, “oh yes, that’s so true.” But do we live that way? How wonderful it is to be with the moment when you see a flower.
When somebody is talking to you, for goodness sake, listen and don’t look over a shoulder at what else is going on. Cocktail time. There’s no greater insult. If you don’t want to be with me, don’t be with me! That’s all right, I can adjust to that. But if you are going to be with me, will you be with me? You say, “I am going to look at the ocean.” Do you look at the ocean? “Oh, isn’t that a beautiful sunset.” Do you mean it? Do you see it? Do you recognize it will never come again?
Death teaches us – if we want to hear – that the time is now. The time is now to pick up a telephone and call the person that you love. Death teaches us the joy of the moment. It teaches us we don’t have forever. It teaches us that nothing is permanent. It teaches us to let go, there is nothing you can hang on to. And it tells us to give up on expectations and let tomorrow tell its own story, because nobody knows if they’ll get home tonight. To me that’s a tremendous challenge. Death says, “live NOW!“