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From midwifery to hospice: Andrea’s spirituality of service

Twenty-one years ago, my youngest daughter, Roise, (pronounced “Rose,”) was born at home, at sunrise. My dear friend, a nurse and midwife, Andrea, put her on my stomach. My baby looked up at me with frightened eyes, and said “Oh! Oh! Oh!”

As her dad, who was in our bed holding me, sobbed with joy, I said to my child, “It’s OK! I’m your Mama!” I nursed her for the first time, and my husband, Blaze, gave her her first bath in our kitchen sink, after my sister in law, Shawna, had cut her umbilical cord. All the women in the family were in the bedroom with us when Roise was born; my step mom, my daughter, Maire, who had run in at the right moment, and my mom, holding Maire in her arms. 

 After everything was all cleaned up and Roise Mariah was pronounced robustly healthy, everyone left with a happy glow. Maire and Blaze climbed into bed with Roise and me and we had a long family nap. It was beautiful.

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Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

I’m having coffee with my friend, Andrea, mid-wife and Hospice nurse. She’s talking about work and spirituality. People often ask her how she can do what she does, especially the Hospice work. But she says that, aside from being tired sometimes, and worried about her own problems when she’s on her way to work, there’s nothing negative about what she does. She forgets everything else in the presence of a laboring woman or a dying person. “It’s like a window to Heaven!”

More often than not, dying people she comes into contact with are in a state of peace as they near the end of their earthly lives, and they commonly seem to be seeing and talking to people in the room that nobody else can see, most often, people they love who have died.

My mother looked up in wonder, not having really spoken for months at the end of her illness. “What are you all doing here? Are you going to take me with you?”

The deaths Andrea has been able to be present for were powerful spiritual experiences for her. The houses of the dying are filled with God’s presence, and she prays deeply when she is working with a patient and his or her family.

She is more grounded and profoundly present than at any other time in her life, she reflects, when she is working.

Sometimes, as she goes about her own daily business, she thinks, “Wow, I really did that.”

The morning my second husband, Bob, had died, Andrea had the beautiful idea of inviting our close women friends to come and wash and anoint his body. She thought of it because in the Bible, women were the ones who prepared the body for burial with bathing, oils and spices.

Our friend, Amy, had a set of Biblical essential oils, such as frankinsence, myrrh, myrtle, spikenard, etc.

Andrea, with solemn tenderness, guided us through an improvised ritual; with Bob’s body modestly draped, we washed him reverently, and anointed him with fragrant oils.

We cried and we prayed.

She guided family and friends in prayer and asked each of us if we had anything we wanted to say as we waited for the funeral home, and for our friend, Deacon Ron Fernandes, who led us in prayer and blessing, and even singing.

“When a family is spiritual, it’s really nice for me- especially if they are Catholic. I am always glad to see icons or a crucifix or picture of Mother Mary in a house. Then I know I can openly pray the rosary. The rosary is definitely the prayer I pray the most during my work.”

“During labor or grief, my imagery/prayer is, ‘Please, Mother Mary wrap this mother, this couple, this family, me, in your mantle of grace and mercy.’ I call that image to my mind.” 

Andrea says she often senses the presence of Mary at births, especially.

“I think I identify with her because she labored to birth Jesus, she was human, and she suffered the grief of His death. This comforts and gives me strength.”

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Photo by Niels on Pexels.com

I have always thought it was perfect that Andrea was born on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, December 12.  The Virgin Mary of Guadalupe is the patroness of the unborn, and in that image, she is pregnant.

“People are always so grateful. And I think, I didn’t DO anything, I was just there!”

I know why people are grateful. They are grateful because she was there. Andrea brings a sense of solid, motherly, and professional competence into a frightening situation, she gives the intimate and ultimate mysteries of birth and death back into the hands of the family. Then these events become far more personal, home and family-centered experiences because of her courage and love, her willingness to come to the family, and serve them where they are, in order to allow them to give birth, or to die, at home. This is a gift of peace.

She recognizes, nurtures and draws out the best in people when it is most needed. She makes them feel empowered in trusting the process.

Precious to me is the memory of Andrea holding my hand as I labored in the bath tub. I laughed and said I could not imagine our family doctor doing this, as good as he is. 

“There is just so much love that is there,” she says, tearing up.

She is certainly adept at finding the beauty inherent in these events, and transmitting it just where it is needed.

As we talked about her work, she cried now and then. Don’t worry, she cries easily. She also believes so much in what she is doing, she is very passionate about it. She gets frustrated trying to describe her thoughts and experiences. She thinks she is in-eloquent. But she’s not.

Andrea is very earthy, and as I thought about what she was saying, and what I learned, having watched her work, I see that her spirituality involves being very in tune with the Sacred Humanity of Christ, of the physicality of birth, suffering, and death, of what Veronica’s veil would have really looked like, smeared with the dirt, blood, sweat, snot, and tears of the very real Face of Our Lord.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The blood and water from the side of Christ make sense to Andrea. She has these all over her all the time. She understands the physical as deeply spiritual. Hers is an Incarnational spirituality, true to the One who came to share our sufferings and give us life; actual life, not just an idea, Life we can touch and hold. That’s how real the Resurrection was. Jesus wasn’t just a spirit. He was and is real. His wounds were touched by His disciples. He ate with his traumatized friends. He comforted them.

Andrea experiences this truth of the Incarnation as an every day reality, and to her, it just is.

Well, not really, because she cries when you try to get her to talk about it.

“What are you looking at, Daddy?”

“The glory of God.”

“What does it look like?”

“You wouldn’t believe it!”

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Travel by heart

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…  wholesome, charitable views… cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner …”
~Mark Twain

This is true. However,  one can travel without leaving town.  Consider the borders of social and economic boundaries,  roles we occupy that keep us from knowing one another, our self protective measures in the face of suffering.  To brush aside convention and fear in favor of love and adventure; this is travel by heart. I don’t know about you, but without it, I tend to create my own world and risk losing sight of the Gospel.

The rule of this travel is: Anything that softens your heart is a good thing. Anything that hardens the heart should be avoided. Cultivate a receptive heart to be a well -rounded traveler. Learn to ignore what doesn’t matter to go places no one has ever been before.

Get to know a “Welfare Mom.”

Be friends with an “illegal” human being.

Hold someone who is dying.

Breath deeply of another’s world.  

Sometimes I am still embarrassed, scared or don’t know what to say, but I have tried walking through the doors when I see them,  making a pilgrimage to the holy shrine of human encounter.

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Photo by lalesh aldarwish on Pexels.com

It’s kind of a crazy place.

Once, an elderly lady I was obediently and routinely spoon- feeding,  smiled, picked up her spoon, and started feeding me! We looked at each other and laughed.

Moments like this happen all the time in life. What if you made a habit of paying attention to their opportunities every day? You would be a seasoned back packer through worlds unknown. Maybe you already are.

Sometimes you will not want to make the trip.

Tradition dictated I invite “all” my “friends, neighbors and family” to my house blessing. I thought, “Not the druggie guys next door.” But I did invite them. They looked great, all smiles, clean and dressed up, obviously totally honored to have been invited. That was humbling. Being humbled feels great.

Make the trip.

 I met a young mom who had to scramble to find a house to clean or a lawn to mow to get dinner on the table for her kids at times when her meager supply of food stamps ran out. LeAnn became a good friend. I would have missed knowing a true poet, missed a beautiful friendship, if she and I had maintained the customary boundaries between “helper and helped.” She would have missed me too.

An elderly man I met during my CNA training enchanted me with his serene playfulness, his big blue eyes. We had fun together while I changed his sheets. “I’ve never met anyone like you before!” he exclaimed. “I’ve never met anybody like you either!” I said. “I think I want to marry you!” “I want to marry you too!” We didn’t get married. But we remain good friends years later. Jim is an extraordinary and inspiring person. To think I could have changed the sheets and walked out of his life!

The mother of one of my daughter’s friends, who is very ill, allowed me to do a few, small acts of service for her. Her courage, humor and kindness have inspired me. She has put a human face on the term, “Illegal immigrant,” for me. Coming to know her has taught me that only what God sees matters. Only His will, His law, which is always, love, matters at all.

Early in my care giving job, talking to my boss, Gretchen, suddenly it seemed I was seeing how lovely she is to God. It was magical, a holy moment, a total gift.  Now I know by experience that she really is lovely, and, fortunately for me, she is a world class traveler! She saw past my brokenness, past the employer-employee relationship, to let me try even when it was scary for her to do.  Her trust helped me grow.

A tendency to travel by heart can help you stay close to someone you love very much even when his journey becomes painful and frightening.

I held my husband, Bob, as he died. I went with him as far as I could until he was gone. All I or anyone else there felt was the overpowering presence of Love. As anyone who has done this can tell you, you can experience love and joy even when death comes, if you just let your heart be there. All that is left is love and you’re not scared anymore.

Habitual focus on what is human and real made me able to connect with my mom in new ways and walk with her through her dementia. It sounds crazy but we had a really good time. It was grace.

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Photo by Sarah J on Pexels.com

Love is its own wisdom, and God Himself IS love. Love covers all the territory. By love, you learn that the universe resides in each human heart, even your own, and that the journey never ends.

That is the kind of trip I love most, because of the peace, transformation, and joy it brings- a trip across borders God does not acknowledge, to that place where the last is first and the first is last and neither even thinks about it because only one thing matters.

So don’t be afraid to cross the borders. Explore, and love. The fence is imaginary and God is on the other side.

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Photo by Tobias Bjørkli on Pexels.com

My guru

His mother calls him “Pete,” (for “Sweetie Petey.) His dad calls him “Macaroo.” Meet Mac. I know he didn’t say anything  you recognize as “How do you do?” But he knows you’re here, and that you are a new person in the room. I wonder what he thinks?

I like to tell him he’s my guru. He is forever in half lotus position, after all. His legs are pretty much stuck that way. However, nearly every moment with Mac is a Zen moment. So it makes sense that he sits like a Master.

His  eyes can be disconcerting at first. We are used to eye contact from others, and Mac’s eyes tend to be unruly, rolling wherever they want to, unseeing. But once you get used to his eye movements you will find  enchanting blue eyes. There is something wise about eyes that do not see. I think it is because eyes like that imply an inner vision. Mac is not going to give you eye contact. But he seems to give soul contact. It’s one of his mysteries.

When I turn Mac over in the morning, I usually ask him how he slept and whether he had any interesting dreams. He talks to me, too, in “happy Mac sounds,” and I answer, “Really? You don’t say! Oh, not THAT!”

As I get him ready for the day  he cooperates as best he can. Or not. (He has his faults like anyone, of course.)

I pull him into his chair from his bed with ease now. I used to not be as good at it, to say the least. We did some unintended yoga  now and then. Mac had to put up with me.  He looked pretty worried at times.

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Photo by Patrick De Boeck on Pexels.com

Trust is a very important part of Mac’s life every moment. It has to be. I’m so glad he trusts me now. His mother says  Mac is “literally an example of blind faith.” When you watch Mac, you can see how true that is. In even the routine events of the day he has to practice faith, and patience. He more often than not shows great sweetness, even sacrifice, forbearance, generosity and love.

For a goofy example, he will wear hats and glasses just for me. His mother says I am the only person he does that for. I realized he does it to please and amuse me even though he doesn’t like it at all. He will even laugh with me the whole time, just because I am happy. I came to see that these virtues of Mac’s are choices he makes. He has been pressed hard to make these choices by necessity every day, but the choice to be virtuous and loving has been his.

Eating is the hardest thing he does all day. It takes all his concentration. It’s hard for him to get his mouth and tongue to do what he wants them to do. He gives it his best most of the time. He has apparently decided, however, that the food had better be worth the trouble. He makes sure I have a chance to practice patience too, when I feed him.“OK, Mac, PILL!” He knows what that means and reluctantly opens his mouth for me.

At first I had a hard time getting his pills down him. I kept putting pills in the wrong place on his tongue, spilling water so it went up his nose, and generally making the process more difficult than necessary. This was hard on both of us. He was mad at me sometimes. But after a little while he would forgive me and lean his head on me to show it.

The day  the pills went down without a hitch, he crowed with joy. He leaned his head against my arm and nuzzled me–the Mac hug. I felt like the best kid in class. I laughed and he laughed too.

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I speak English, Mac speaks Mac, and we both speak music. When I turn him over on his stomach and put on some music he likes, he arches up, raising and swinging his torso, lifting up against the outward curve of his “C” shaped back, pushing with his elbow a bit to stretch higher. He reminds me of a dolphin leaping from the water. He may begin whooping and howling. I like to howl with him. He thinks that is funny and laughs contagiously. Sometimes we raise quite a ruckus and the dogs come running in, barking.  His  “Macnastics”  dance to his favorite song (on repeat) in the morning is an uncontainable Alleluia– joy concentrate.

A big part of our day is listening to music.  He pays close attention, usually, to any new music I play for him. If he loves it he will sing with it, which might sound a little more like screaming to the uninitiated. If you knew Mac though, you would be able to tell that it is beautiful and soulful.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Mac loves the wind. He especially loves a sudden gust that rushes against his face. He will sing to a breeze like that. He lunges in his chair with happiness when the wind brings leaves scuttling across the driveway. If he is like me, and maybe he is, he likes the way the wind seems to fill his soul and lift his spirit. Or his happiness with the wind could be something completely unique to the Mac-iverse that we will never know.

Sometimes on our walks I gather rose petals and sprinkle them over his head. He can’t see the petals or even what I am doing but he smiles gently, as if he appreciates the love.

In the afternoon I like to do my meditation with Mac’s feet in my hands. He seems to know to be silent with me then, unless he needs something or is uncomfortable. Then he isn’t silent.

Sitting quietly with Mac, his funky little feet warm in my hands, the sun spilling through the windows, the dogs sleeping nearby, is rather heavenly.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When his family comes home Mac lights up as if all the love in the world is right here at his house.  It does seem that way, they are so crazy about him, too.  I feel privileged to be let in on the love they have going there.

What is it like to be Mac? How much does he “understand” in the way we define it?  Mac does not “do” much by the world’s standards. But he participates in and lives life. He loves and is loved. His soul has beauty, purpose, and wisdom of its own.

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There are so many things  Mac can’t do but I hardly ever think about that. I’m fascinated by what he can do, what he might be doing, and how much he shows me what it is to live, to be human, to be a child of God.

He teaches me things I thought I knew.

Mac is a shining light of every truth he lives.

I have  finally received the true initiation from my 23-year old guru, his highest honor, the Mac kiss. I’m going to smile all day. You would too. I think he just taught me all I need to know.

Mac really is my guru.  His teaching is simple but profound: Everybody has a soul, that you can connect with by love. Everyone has love within them. Everyone has a mission from God and is loved, loved, loved by God. We all “know” this. But to see this, really see it, is to be in Heaven already. And in Heaven nobody cares if you drool a little. That’s how it should be.

The Feet of the Master

feet of the master 🙂

 

  • I wrote this article in 2014, with the permission of Mac’s parents, when I was in my first year of working with Mac. I wanted to reflect on my work with him again as my official job with him is ending. We’re not worried. We know we will always be friends.

A magical day with Mom

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“Remember” by Red Moore

When mom and I got out of the car, at the Antique Rose Emporium* it was as if she shed her dementia and I forgot all about it. We wandered into a timeless, and for us, almost mythical place.

Roses are healing.

She walked, smiling, down the lovely rose-lined paths with her now faltering steps, and I followed her, no less affected than she seemed to be.

It was as if we both felt a sense of peace, restoration, familiarity and relief; those bright, curving walkways leading us to the past, expanding the present, making the future irrelevant for now- while the roses looked on, their sweet, serene faces gently swaying in the breeze, glowing in the mild, fall sunshine. They seemed to welcome us.

We walked, reading their names, these names as familiar as a litany of cousins, brothers or household saints; part of my mother’s every day language.

Duchesse Brabant, Old Blush, Abraham Darby, laMarque, Baily Red, Ducher, Cecile Brunner, Red Cascade, Mermaid, the Fairy, Graham Thomas, Dame de Cour …

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found rose

We meet here in dreams- meet each other, or friends, sometimes even family members long gone. Here where past and present merge, and moments are easily savored,  it is a perfect place for the kind of dream that imprints itself on the soul forever.

We meet here often in reality too: picnics, Mother’s Days, birthdays, tea parties with mom and her best friend, Ellen, or to pick out roses for planting time.

On some visits Mom and I were so engrossed in roses, we didn’t notice the kids under our feet, or that they were running down the path, disappearing with the wagon.

Pictures of us all in this place dot our family albums, as well as mom’s massive volume of photos, labels and histories of her own roses.

I was tired and did not want to take any pictures that day. Mom had left her camera in the car, too. Pictures can only snatch at time. They never really catch anything.

We wandered happily in the temple of our many meetings.

Mom and I exclaimed over scents, over loveliness both new and familiar. We passed the big old house with its wrap-around porch, walked down brick paths and gravel, around fountains and enclosures, past the statue of Our Lady of the Rosary, where we had often stopped to pray with the kids. We stood in the center of the gazebo where my brother and his wife were married on another fall day years ago. Silent and still, we held hands, smiled and remembered.

“Roses are healing,” I said aloud, and the roses seemed to nod and smile.

“Yes,” she said, “they are.”

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lamarque

She chose four rose bushes, becoming more and more distracted, wandering off now and then, so that the process of buying them took a long time.

The spell, like all spells, must wear off.

I loaded up the roses, and we drove back to reality- or a different one, anyway. But I think we were both conscious of a special blessing.

Roses are healing. Roses are holy. And some places are made timeless by love.

 

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My mom, Delphia, on her front porch with her dog, Devon, 2011.

 

*  https://www.antiqueroseemporium.com/

Kiss

Five years ago today
It was raining
And my mother died
In the other room.
My house
where I had been caring for her
witnessed the exit of her spirit.
 
My step dad said
her every rose
bloomed that day.
Her last words
I heard were,
    “OK!
I’ll be there in a minute,”
 
And my name.
 
I still need you, Mom.
And from now on
I will kiss every rose.
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The Music Map

WheelchairAccessible-2Every day I try to get out with Mac if it isn’t too cold, too hot, or raining. We enjoy our walks together. I pray and sing and talk to him. Sometimes we are quiet, or he may express his joy…. or annoyance, as the case may be.

His wordless running commentary on life  can sound very much like any other monologue; or shall we call it “Mac’s non-verbal soliloquy?”

I answer him back as if I totally get what he is saying, as I often feel I do. I answer him as I would anyone else, “I feel the same way, Mac,” or “Tell me about it, Mac,”  or I act like I disagree, “What?! You’re kidding me!” He enjoys this. Sometimes he laughs.

Mac, besides being mostly unable to speak, is also blind. However he does respond to music, and music is a big part of our day.

Besides the recorded music we listen to, I have little songs I sing him, mostly simple little ditties I have made up over time that he likes and that I use for different parts of our daily routine.

Mac has very little sense of personal choice in his life, of course, since everything must be done for him. We brush his teeth, feed him turn him, dress and change him, move him and wheel him around. He can let us know how he feels, in his own way, and we care about that. But he has far less control than we do over the ordinary events of the day.

Routine helps him understand his life and know where we are in the day and what is going to happen.

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Mac

In general we think Mac understands a lot more of what’s happening than people might think, and perhaps even understands things we don’t. (By “we” I mean his family and myself.) However, anything we can do to help him have more control or understanding of  his life and circumstances, we want to do.

Since he is so responsive to music, I decided to make him a “map” of his neighborhood with songs.

What I did was simple. Every street has its own song. I made it a simple song, most of them rounds that I taught my kids when they were growing up; such as “Jubilate Deo.” Each has a short, jolly melody and a phrase that is repeated again and again, easily recognizable.

As soon as we turn on to a new street, I sing its’ song.

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If he is enjoying my singing, I sing the song for a while. If he makes the grunting, irritated sounds he makes when he wants quiet, I know to stop. I have informed him of where we are in our walk, and I can quit singing and let him listen to the birds instead.

Other times he crows with recognition and in participation with every song, lifting his chin to the rhythm of the music.  He likes when I sing, and I think knowing where we are gives him more freedom to feel like he’s on a walk, rather than just being taken around.

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photo by Maire Manning-Pauc

The street he lives on actually has two songs. One song is for when we are going away from the house, and one for when we are coming back. That way, especially on days when he is kind of grumpy or he feels our walk has been too long, he knows we are headed back in the right direction and he is more patient.

I see him calm down and quit fussing when I begin the song that means, “We’re on your street and headed back to your house.”

I have thought for a long time that he understands this “music map.” When I have experimented by singing the wrong song, he expresses the displeasure he often does when his routine is disrupted in other ways. This tells me he knows the songs for each street and doesn’t want me messing that up! Even when we take different routes he seems to know and recognize the street we are on and what song I should be singing.

I think that Mac does have a “music map” in his mind now. I think he has learned about his neighborhood more this way.

Mac is often mysterious. I may not be able to understand what he draws from the street-song plan of mine.  But he does “get” that each street has its own song and he knows what that song should be.

It’s one more way for us to connect and communicate.

That’s surely something.

And it adds more joy to our day.

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The day’s modest ornaments: simple routines that re-center

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I have a cup of coffee, and I am listening to jazz (Alice Coltrane today,) because it is 2 o’clock. That’s what I always do this time of day; jazz and coffee. Somehow this makes me feel more present in the day.

The loose, open-ended routine of stopping the day, at least a little bit, to remind myself I am in it, began when I was an overwhelmed young mother with my first new born. I looked forward to the afternoon jazz show on public radio every day. It helped me touch base, and for the day not to just slip away. It started at 2:06PM. It still does, actually.

My best friend, Andrea, lived on the other side of our duplex, and she liked to make a pot of coffee about 2, because she tended to get sleepy that time of day. So we had the afternoon solace of a cup of coffee, afternoon jazz, and an attempt at a moment of peace together each day, with our babies.

Later 2 o’clock jazz and coffee was a stopping place of peace and re-gathering before I picked the kids up from school. There were various incarnations of the same 2 o’clock routine as my life evolved.

Even through all the tragedy and trauma of these last few difficult years, I have continued to put on some jazz and make a cup of coffee around 2PM, if possible. The duration of time I spend on this, and what else I will do at that time, varies, but generally, I will do at least those two things, and make conscious contact with the day.

What does this do? It gives me a little island in the day to reclaim my peace and priorities.

On a busy, hectic day, it reminds me that I need to slow down.

On one of those difficult, timeless days when my ADD seems worse, or I have that PTSD inertia -anxiety I get, it helps me get a foot on the ground and start over.

For me time can be vague, and the day gets away from me. The simple act of turning on the music and putting on some coffee at that same time of day I always do, is a rung on the ladder back to earth.

As Dorothy Day said, “My strength returns to me with my cup of coffee and a reading of the Psalms.”

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When I am at work caring for Mac, I still make coffee and put on some jazz at 2 in the afternoon. He has developed a taste for jazz now, and if I put on any other type of music that time of day, he looks confused. “Hey, what are you doing?”

The rhythm of the day means a lot to Mac. I think it is how he understands his place in time and in the world in general.

I can learn from his way of keeping track of his life so that it means something to him. Without the predictable and repeated routines of each part of the day, life would feel like an unsure, confusing continuum to him. He feels safe when he understands, at least in a general way, where he is in his day.

We are the same way, though most of us have more physical senses and more personal choices available to us than Mac does.

Routines and traditions help us to be fully in the present moment, and, if they are appreciated, can help us live more deeply, more consciously, and therefore, more prayerfully.

Maybe that’s why God made time for us to live in, even though He doesn’t need it. He doesn’t have any problem being present everywhere at once, but we do. We need time to truly experience life and meaning.

We have to mark time to keep ourselves in the only part of time we can really live in; the present moment.

The present moment is where we are most able to encounter God, because that is where we ourselves really are. God is within us, so we need to be “home,” to be present to our Guest.

During the day, we can get caught up in the past, in the future, and other distractions, worries, and concerns. Our minds are a constant river of thoughts and feelings.

Sometimes the day is a frantic blur. Sometimes it is like a dream we can’t quite remember.

When we occupy time fully by being present in the day, there we will find meaning; we will find God.

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I have been thinking about that.

I am not much of a routine person. I tend to prefer a cadenza of a day, leaving plenty of room for inspiration, for people who show up, for the Holy Spirit to blow through, for random acts of goofiness, impulsive kindness, or happy, dreamy uselessness.

However, I understand that touch points in the day can be sacred. They give me a way to put the day back on track, put first things first, and remember what I’m trying to do with my life.

Besides making sure I get certain things done each day that have to be done, routines can be boxes to put presence in.

They can be conscious bridges into the next part of the day, helping me live intentionally for the next few hours.

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I am trying to aim for small and attainable things to do here and there like modest ornaments for the day I am crafting.

One of these little routines is to turn off any music or stop whatever noise or activity or device is on at noon and pray the Angelus prayer.

I try to get certain things done at work  by then so that I can sit down beside Mac and pray the Angelus at the traditional time of noon, or as close as I can get.

 

Mac likes this, too. He knows when all is tidied up and quiet, and he is made comfortable, that I will come sit and pray with him for a while. Sometimes he likes me to scratch his head while I pray the Angelus, and mid day prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours.

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Mac and I hang out

Another thing I have been trying to do: When I get home from work, before I do anything else, is to make time for a mindful sweeping up before I let myself settle down or get obsessed with anything. It’s an easy thing to do, but it makes a big difference in how the rest of the evening goes.

The temptation, when I get home from work, is to  flop down and start reading or messing around on the Internet, or get caught up in listening to the news.

When I succumb to that temptation, it seems I only get more and more tired and unmotivated, and that time is wasted. There goes the evening, before I know it; myself and the world, none the better.

I am more likely to do other good things if I make the transition into the evening by doing a simple, silent routine like sweeping, paying attention to what I am doing, often accompanied by inwardly saying the names of Jesus and Mary prayerfully as I sweep.

Jesus. Maria. Jesus. Maria. Jesus. Maria.

Sometimes I even think there is another pair of playful, encouraging feet dancing with mine as I move across the floor with the broom; sneaky, sandaled, dusty feet behind my bare ones, and a silent voice that playfully says, “1,2,3, 1,2,3,” as if we were waltzing together while I sweep.

It makes me chuckle.

Maybe I’m on the right track.

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painting by Bob Chapman

 

 

*If you would like to try praying the Liturgy of the Hours, you can try it for free on Universalis

For more on finding meaning and mindfulness in house work, you might like my post The holiness of house work

 

 

 

In Honor of World Cerebral Palsy Day

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In honor of World Cerebral Palsy Day, I want to talk about a great part of my life, Mac, who has C.P., and about what it’s like to spend my days with “his Eminent Lovableness. ”

Mac and I don’t actually “do” much. I mean, not really. We mostly just hang out together. We mostly just “are.”

Fortunately, we are really good at that.

I do change, dress, move, and feed Mac, as needed. I brush his teeth, give him his medicine. I do his laundry, dishes, and other light house work. I accompany him to doctor’s appointments. I push his wheel chair for walks. I guess at what is bothering him when he is annoyed or unhappy in some way. I try to make sure he is always safe, clean, and comfortable.

That’s the stuff I’m supposed to “do.”

Mac does his best to cooperate most of the time. He does his best to communicate his needs and preferences.

I make a little bit of money for this, and my job is very rewarding. Also people often say I am sweet to be doing it. Encouragement is always nice.

The part that is harder to see unless one is with us, is that Mac and I are friends.

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If you ask Mac about me, he will often say one of the few words he is able to make come out right, “Yuck.” He thinks this is funny, and I do too.

However,  “yuck,” doesn’t actually describe our friendship that well.

In normal life a young man in his twenties and a woman in her forties, who were not related, would not hang out all the time. They would probably not find much reason to be in the same place for long.

But here we are, hanging out during one of our favorite times of the day; the late afternoon, when lunch is cleared away, and the sunshine through the window is turning a honeyed gold. Miles Davis is on the radio, the laundry is folded, and my feet are on the foot rest of his wheel chair next to his own. I am writing. He is gazing in the general direction of the window.

This is it.

We both love it.

I look up at him, and he smiles. I don’t know how he knows I looked up, since he can’t see much except possibly shadow and light.

I like to think he knows I am looking at him because we are connected by heart.

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“Cells” by Bob Chapman

Mac doesn’t “do” anything, in the way the world defines doing.

What Mac does is be present, love those around him, and deeply enjoy life.

His face lights up when someone he loves is near, when his family comes home, when he hears his brother’s voice over the phone, when he knows he is about to go somewhere with his parents. (OK, also he is very happy when he thinks he is getting away with something, like when  I have forgotten his pills, for instance.)

He can’t hug us since his arms don’t work well enough mechanically to do so. But he leans his head against us and nuzzles us. That is a Mac hug.

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“Isn’t she ridiculous?”

He shows love by forgiving us when we make a mistake, like accidentally spilling something on him, or inadvertently pinching him or something.He might be mad for a minute, but he forgives.

He trusts us that we will be there when he comes off the edge of the bed toward his chair in our arms. He knows we will make sure he is safe.

Sometimes he is so happy to be with the ones he loves, he screams with joy.

He listens closely to anything I want to read him, and to music that I play him. He lets me know if he doesn’t like the song. He lets me know how he is feeling.

Sometimes he squeezes my hand when I am sad.

He swings his head up like a crazy periscope when I come in in the morning, especially if I have been gone for a while.

He hangs out with his good friend, Shawn, enjoys the afternoon, and smiles at her.

All these he does because he loves. Love is not always a “doing” kind of thing. It is also a being kind of thing.

Mac takes deep joy in the quotidian routines of living. He loves all the different parts of the day; each ritual of the days’ passing, each interlude of inactivity or quiet.

He shouts with enjoyment when he hears music he loves. He appreciates the people around him. His wild laughter at everyday situations, like being accidentally outside when it starts to rain, are about the joy of living. His various “happy Mac” expressions are enthusiasm about the moment. He expresses his contentment by saying, “Good-good!” These are all expressions of gratitude. Gratitude is about being, too.

In that way, Mac is really busy.

And so am I.

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For more about Mac 🙂

 

 

 

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