Last week I was reminded of one of the most refreshing aspects of an arduous trip to a foreign country: not speaking the language. What sweet relief! Being utterly, absolutely free of language and its insidious effect on me: reading, talking, eavesdropping, writing, judging, second guessing, comparing, competing and then, and then, and then. Last week I didn’t read, blog or bloviate. I didn’t charge ahead. I didn’t fall behind. I didn’t make a list. Here I’m home but for two hours, and the list is already lengthening at my side, the pen squiggling across the lines of my journal even as I fight a reunion with the cherished sleep I missed most dearly.
I’m striving again. We’re all striving. If we’re not striving, we might wonder, what then?
As I rapid-fire clicked through emails and blogs I returned twice to Kelly, who today stands in the nowhere between a very sick mother and a very sick sister:
The most challenging part of all the illness around me is accepting that I have absolutely no ability to help anyone get better.
That is the truest thing I haven’t said lately. Being with someone who is sick or dying can seem like being in a foreign country. Or a foreign airport, in my case, in an unmoving line leading to one Lufthansa ticket agent hammering uselessly into a broken computer while the cushiony minutes to takeoff disappear. The most challenging part is accepting that I have absolutely no ability to help. There’s no striving. There’s just being. And even though there is no striving in just being, some folks will tell you that there must be a way to steer the being along better. Not just a way to do nothing, but a right way, a good way, to do nothing.
I don’t subscribe to that expertise. We are all amateurs at death; in the same way we are all amateurs at life, although we rarely give ourselves permission. For those of us whose part in dire hours is to sit it out and sit beside, our part is to just sit. Sitting with my mother and my father as they died was the most intimate act I’ve ever known. And while I do not think it more sacred than going nowhere at a ticket counter, it was no less sacred.
You see, when it looks and feels as if we are doing nothing, we’re actually doing quite a bit. We are standing still on one of those slow-motion moving walkways stretching from terminal A to terminal E. We are crossing a threshold all the while, crossing a border whose demarcation is all but imperceptible. We are entering the motherland, the pure land, and in that nowhere else, we are coming home.
A tribute to my mother, and to everyone’s mother, on the eighth anniversary of her death April 13, 2001.