12.02.2009

Giving 101

Hope everyone found some respite and celebration over Thanksgiving time.

Sometimes things don't go the way you'd planned and that's what happened for me this year. My husband and I were about to leave for Portland, OR for a week visiting family and friends but then my 85 year old mother-in-law, Ellen, fell and broke her shoulder - pretty bad as it turns out - complicated by her age and other health issues. So we've spent countless hours in the emergency room, then hospital, and now a nursing home for rehab. A funny, sweet, woman who enjoyed quiet reading and watching nature outside her window is now in much pain with her mobility greatly diminished. One day everything changes. Ellen said it best when one day in her hospital bed she looked at us with a half-grin of disbelief and whispered, "What a bummer".

There are always ripples, and sometimes riptides, that upset normal routines and daily rituals. The challenge for me is to be present in prioritizing demands of life and work, or in some cases put them aside (as I've had to do with my blog). Thanksgiving became an experience of putting into practice all the lofty ideas about "giving" and connection - a quick test on Giving 101.

We were stopped cold in the middle of our busyness and given a new assignment. We've been tired and worried, and unsure about making decisions regarding Ellen's care, but we've found our strength together, Ken and I. And we see how important it is to build and polish trust and loving kindness every day... so that it's solidly there when you need it.

The other truly amazing gift and revelation is how really, really good and kind people are. I'm meeting nurses, physical therapists, aides, CNAs, social workers. All these wonderful good people doing their often difficult work with patience and care. I can't tell you how many times in the last few weeks I've witnessed gentle kindness. I am reminded of a book by Ram Das called, "How Can I Help" - it includes true stories by caregivers about service and the true practice of compassion.


This print available on my website here.

I'm receiving a soft, steady rain of gifts right now, a mist of grace. It is a gift to have the privilege of helping my mother-in-law and supporting my husband in this difficult time. It is real and close, nothing abstract here. I am receiving unexpected kindness from strangers, right and left. Even the residents in the nursing home go out of their way to offer directions - how to unlock the bathroom, etc. And they are so charged with gratitude themselves when you receive and appreciate their simple gift. I am witnessing how much people want to give. Receiving someone's kindness is important because it allows the giver to pour out kindness. As the giver feels their own kindness pouring out they receive a wonderful charge of joy. Where does it begin and where does it end, this circuit of giving and kindness. Who knows?

Today, because I had a few hours before going back to the nursing home, I was going to write a post about adding traditions and rituals to our seasonal activities - I described my family's wreath-making tradition in my last post. I wrote the first line : In a fragmented world with wildly mixed messages, we need more than ever to experience a deeper connection with others and a kinship with all life. But then I decided to be in this moment and say what is really happening in my world.

Be present. Witness the flow of life and love and kindness. Fall into it. You can enter the river anywhere... as giver or receiver.