The Parable of the Twins

I just returned from a walk down to the lake, here in my home town.  The sun was shining brilliantly and the surface of the water was glittering like a thousand diamonds. Claudia pointed out some herons, which I wouldn’t have noticed on my own.  It was one of the first times I had been out for a pleasant walk since my mother died.  
As we sat down on the dock and put out feet into the refreshingly cool water, we talked about many things, and I learned so much from her and her experiences.  We spoke about life – not death, except that many of the myths about the dying process are as fictional as those about birth.  We laughed, we shared, and in the words of Rick in the film Casablanca, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
Claudia told me about a conversation she had read in German about two babies in the womb and said she would find it for me in English.  Thanks to the wonder of the Internet, I located the excerpt from Dr. Wayne Dyer’s book, Your Sacred Self.  I am excited to share it today, because in a sense, I am going through a re-birth of my own in a world full of possibilities.
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In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery?”

The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”

“Nonsense” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?”

The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”

The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”

The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”

The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover if there is life, then why has no one has ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”

The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists then where is She now?”

The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her this world would not and could not exist.”

Said the first: “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.”

To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and you really listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.”

–  from Your Sacred Self by Dr.  Wayne Dyer

Long March Home

I am writing this in the midst of my mother’s “Long March Home.”

My sister called again this morning to talk and read to her. My Uncle and Aunt spoke to her from California and I know that my mother perked up and heard the love in all their voices. They will call again, and I am grateful for the peace they are helping to impart to my mother’s last days.

She is sleeping comfortably now, having refused all food and water for the past two days. She is in no pain, and of course she does not, nor will she, take any medication, so there is no need to call Hospice.  I had a lovely Christian Science nurse come for a visit yesterday to brief me on the finer points of caregiving (positioning, etc.), but other than that, it is a time of calm, quiet and tranquility. With no meals to prepare, I am at liberty to just concentrate on Mom and reflect on the sixty-five year history we have shared.

At the Beach 1956

I am surprised, and a little delighted, that the floodgates of my mind are opening and memories are just popping out of nowhere.  I choose to think about the happy times, not about the days or even hours to come. I don’t even want to think about my future without her in it.  There will be plenty of time for that, but the time is not now.

The radio is playing an opera that I’m not so crazy about, so I’m going to pop a CD into the stereo for us to listen to while I scan some photos.  I chose ‘WQXR’s 100 Best Classics,’  and a mix of selections including Beethoven’s Symphony No.6 (Pastoral). The notes fill the air with beauty, and as always, lift us up when we need lifting.  Classical music has been an integral part of our lives. We have several musicians in the family, and I sing whenever and wherever I can (the shower, the kitchen, the car) – even when the songs don’t have words.

A world full of music is my mother’s idea of Paradise. When I was maybe twelve or thirteen, she told me about her experience of dying in the hospital from complications arising from an ectopic or tubal pregnancy. My sister Andrea hadn’t come along yet, and I was about three years old at the time. Now you may doubt what I am about to say, but I have no reason to believe that Mom lied to me. It was something you just didn’t talk about back then; people would think you were crazy.  (This was before everyone started cashing in on the ‘out-of-body’ stuff.)

Mom said that she had the feeling that she was floating, floating above the room. She saw the doctors working on her, but she heard music in the distance – beautiful music unlike anything she had ever heard before.  She turned in the direction from which it was coming and started to walk.  Everything glowed and sparkled, the way it can after it rains. She recalled saying to herself, “Oh.  Is THIS what it’s like to die?”

sidney-e-pritchard

My Grandfather

Who knows how long she enjoyed that euphoric moment. But then, she had an overwhelmingly sad thought: “I can’t leave little Hillary alone!” And back she was in her body, facing pain and disappointment and loss and all the other human frailties.  Not for a day, but a lifetime.

She came back for me.

How could I do any less for her?  My mother. My teacher. My best friend.

She’s smiling now as she hears the familiar part her father first played for her on the phonograph when she was just four.  As she watched him Craftex the ceiling, he taught her the words to the scherzo melody in the Pastoral, “I see you, I see you, tra la la la la la. I see you, I see you, tra la la la la la…”

In her mind now, she’s dancing and skipping around the room.

 

 

Let us cultivate our garden.

Some days are harder than others… Today was ‘one of those days’.

Sometimes I get kind of blue. I realize the inevitable will happen one day: my mother will pass, and I’ll grieve, but Life will go on and I’ll be OK. Sometimes I feel depressed because I recognize that my mother could possibly live for another ten years, and I’ll be 75 years old and still taking care of her! Then I feel guilty because of my depression about that!

I grabbed my journal and wrote furiously for about an hour. Writing has always been my way of letting off steam, clarifying feelings, setting goals and working out conflicts. I couldn’t even tell you what I said in it other than I ultimately realized that I was living in the future, worrying about things that I don’t have to deal with today.

All I really have to do is take care of today. Be in the moment. Practice mindfulness.

Yesterday, I took a book off my library shelf that I found in my attic when I moved into my home back in 1982. It was a Literary Guild Book from December 1929 and I’ve been telling myself for over thirty years that I would read it. I finally did.

The book was Candide by Voltaire. Inside the front cover was a copy of Wings, the Literary Guild of America monthly magazine, which said that the edition was “the finest piece of book-making ever achieved in the United States.” At the time, it cost twenty dollars, which would be $276.63 today. Amazing.

Even though Wings reviewed Candide as “an established masterpiece, and the “quintessence of all the books in which wisdom, wit and malice are brought to bear upon the spectacle of human life,” to me, it was at first glance absolutely ridiculous! It was like a grown-up cartoon where no matter what you do to the main character, he keeps popping back up.  But I kept reading.

The secondary characters are stereotypical and caricatures of the aristocracy, the clergy, Jews, Protestants, religion in general, the government, bankers – Voltaire leaves no one out! (Which is why he was imprisoned and banished several times in real life.) He makes fun of everyone, and even in the face of robbery, murder, floggings and worse, Candide recites what Pangloss, his philosopher teacher, taught him as a young boy, “All is for the best.” (If you truly believe that, I suppose you can rest easy, and though you still may suffer, your suffering will not be in vain.) Halfway through, I found I was actually enjoying the book.

The conclusion to the story sets everything right, as far as I’m concerned. When all the loose ends are tied and Candide and his troop are living quietly in the country, boredom strikes and makes them long for their days of excitement. Candide meets a farmer and his family who are living each day in perfect contentment, tending their fields. He reflects on their industry and the farmer’s prescription for freedom from boredom, vice and need. They do not pontificate, moralize or sermonize. They do not indulge in long political and religious discussions. They simply live and work, enjoy each others company and the fruit of their labor.

When he returns home Candide shares his insight. “Let us work without theorizing,” one of the characters says in response. “It is the only way to make life endurable.”

I like the translation of my edition, rather than the one I found on the internet. Mine reads: “The whole small fraternity entered into this praiseworthy plan, and each started to make use of his talents.”

Occasionally though, Pangloss starts to philosophize about how each event is linked with all the others for the best possible outcome. Candide interrupts him. “Tis well said,” said Candide, “but we must cultivate our gardens.”

I must remember that line.  It’s a good one.

Is it really that simple? To do the task before us without concern for the future, or fear of the outcome? To find certainty in the fact that we are doing all we can, the best way that we can, at this moment in time? is that the best possible world? Can Candide and Pangloss BOTH be right?

I am reminded of what Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, calls “mindfulness.” He says, “When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love.”

Sigh. I feel better already.