July 4th’s unexpected illuminations

Yesterday was illuminating in ways I never expected.

Friends had us over for an evening bbq – their property boasts a great view of the local rockets’ glorious glare.  John was the elder of the group, at 72, with the rest of us all 60-something.  Two of them were discussing whether or not to take a particular medication, with their focus apparently on whether it would be as beneficial for warding off dementia as they’d heard.

Curious, I asked about why, in their 60s, they were already so focused on the possibility of dementia.  “We don’t want to be a burden on our children.”

That left me jaw-dropped in surprise.

They’re not even into their seventies & already worrying about being a drain on their family, wanted to take proper precautions against heart disease, which ran in both their families.  (I had a hard time not saying, “Well, for starters, you can have something more heart-friendly than grilled steak with a side of potatoes but no other veggies,” but held my tongue.)

It brought to mind another dear friend, a school mate, who also fretted a few weeks back about being a bother to their children.  She explained – “Parents love their children more than children love their parents.”  Like the other friends, this was a mother who had raised terrific kids who loved her to pieces.  She, like them, is afraid of needing their support in the future.  Am beginning to wonder if this fear is typical of the sixties or mere coincidence.

This is an area where John &  I are clueless about parental fears.  We weren’t blessed to have children – God apparently had different plans for us.  It’s left me floundering to understand otherwise sane & reasonable people driven to attend to wants rather than needs, who apparently pandered to an adult child’s longtime weakness rather than showing tough love.

That’s just one of many aspects of parenting that’s forever outside our ken.  But this whole thing of “I don’t want to be a burden on my children” from a contemporary of mine still has my brain reeling.

These are women who hold dear to their hearts the Ten Commandments.  Yes, children don’t have the same natural love of their parents as their parents have for them.  Most people seem to understand that only the rarest of rare parents don’t feel a deep personal connection to their offspring, a driving desire to protect them, sometimes at all costs.  For parents, that desire to support seems implanted from the earliest moments, a bond that seems especially strong with mothers.  For children, there is an admonition from God – and a promise.

Honor your father & your mother, that YOUR days may be long (that you may prosper).”

All three women rolled their eyes & made it clear they think that it’s an issue I can never understand because I never had my own.  But maybe it’s the other way around.

Perhaps they’re blinded by an all-encompassing love that feels – at least in their case – let down by the fact the children don’t have the same love of Mom & Dad.  But we are told that, in spite of that,  they are MEANT to be there for their parents, even when it is a huge bother & even intense inconvenience.

The most brilliant illumination last night lit up my inner understanding.

Over the past week, I’ve pondered WHERE to focus my experience, insights, energies.  My friends’ worries seem to paint a great big arrow pointing in the direction of right where my thoughts have been lingering of late – – on helping everyone embrace aging, from first breath to last, as a natural & naturally glorious evolution, with every moment filled with horn-to-hoof awareness that, whatever our circumstance or situation, what is happening, even if it seems to totally stink, is what is meant to be.

That might sound simplistic.  It is.  Oh, life isn’t easy.  AND it is meant to be lived.  Take precautions.  Use medications wisely, without forgetting the basics of core good health practices like a wise diet to reduce known risks.  And don’t fret.  “Consider the lilies of the field….”

Am I unrealistically upbeat?  I think not.  I was there for my parents, especially my mother, when they needed support.  It was often wrenching at times with Mom, looked to my friends like I wasn’t looking out for myself.  But, ultimately, both Mom & I filled our parent/child roles; in her last few years, the two of us consciously came to our situation with love & a right attitude that acknowledged that when server & servee approach their situation from love honor respect those roles drop away & all that was left was service.

Last night, John & I went to our friends’ house looking forward to an evening sparkling with good friends, great food & awesome fireworks.  I arrived home with a mind illuminated beyond my wildest imaginings.  I’m meant to be a rocket of hope for people fearing what’s meant to be fabulous, even when it’s fiercely challenging.  To dissipate dark foreboding with the illumination of WOW!


Even Hitler

Marianne Williamson introduced me to the reality that when we take down our masks, we discover how alike we are.  That seems to tally with my believe that the grand end of life is 5, or 5th – when we fulfill the 5th Commandment, when we see our parents as what they truly are, as fallible humans with stories we don’t really know because they don’t, then we embrace the flawed humanity within which is the Divine.  Getting to see, to accept in our heart & express in our lives that core-est of core truths is what our time in this place, at this moment is all about.  Coming back to where we began – reflecting resonating reverberating Divine Love.

This is true for EVERYONE – we don’t get to pick & choose.  It’s either true for all or for none.  On that point, many of our nation’s evangelicals sound to me far more like pharisees than disciples of Christ.  The Divine doesn’t run an exclusive, excluding club.

My mother used to tell us that we could not judge anyone, no matter what they did.  We could – and should – have judgement around what they do, never around their intent.

“Even HITLER?” we asked, thinking we got her with that one.

“Even Hitler,” she answered, to our shock.

When I set aside my mask, it’s easier to see my spirit kinship with EVERYONE.  Everyone’s heart touching, in this time & place, around the world, transcending place & time.  Even Hitler’s.

That Your Days May Be Long

Guess it was about five years ago that I first got a hankering to write a book on something that comes as naturally to me as breathing – making the 5th Commandment an integral part of my adult life.   But it didn’t occur to me until John & I worked with Anne Davis Hyatt, after she lost her O Best Beloved, Kent.  She’d make blue days stormy grey by fretting over being a burden on her children, on taking up their time when “they have their own lives to live.”  For weeks, I was stumped on how to turn her downward spiral back up.  Then it happened.

Anne was a devout Christian, knew her Bible – the Ten Commandments were etched on her heart.  We were out on a ramble when she started in on being a sorry imposition on her children.  I heard myself reply, “So, you don’t care if your children have remarkable lives?”  That got her attention!   She swung around to look at me as she indignantly spouted, “I want the BEST for my family!

I had my opening – the rest flowed out, all improv, a spontaneous AH HA coming on the spur of the moment.

“Well, the 5th Commandment teaches us that when children honor – care about & for – their parents, they  are gifted with “long days,” which I think means contented, happy, feeling prosperous.  By giving them the opportunity to be there for you, you give them the opportunity for having special lives.

It was clear that Anne was trying to come up with something to refute my statement.  She couldn’t.  That was the commandment.  It clearly states that children who honor their parents are bestowed blessings for their “right spirit” connection.  She was stumped.  “I never thought of it that way. ”

I’d like to say that Anne never again beat herself up for being a drag on her family, but I can note that she bowed to my reasoning whenever it came up & in time did stop saying it.  Not because I countered with something she already believed, but because it was true. For me, it wasn’t that something she believed had a deeper meaning than she’d realized, but that, until that moment with Anne, meandering along the back country roads she loved, neither had I!

Honor v. Obey  ~ The 5th Commandment,  the bedrock of Judeo-Christian faiths & reflected in many other faiths & cultures around the globe, teaches us to “Honor your father & your mother, that your days may be long upon the land with the Lord your God gives you.”  Sadly,  it’s too often paired with Paul’s millenia-later edict to the Ephesians, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right”  –  “obey” conveys a significantly sterner message than “honor”;  the first is rooted in a compelled will, the second flows from the heart.

My life was significantly blessed from my earliest awareness with a respect for Mom & Dad – as my parents, but also as people.  Maybe it was because of knowing so much at such a young age about their histories – Mom was a great storyteller & often shared tales about her childhood sibs parents & what she’d learned about Dad’s.

Backstory  ~  Maybe it was because the two of them experienced such multi-layered personal tragedies in their teens, after idyllic childhoods, that my protective emotions toward my parents were stirred early in life.  As a child, I saw them as my parents – protectors, teachers, task masters.  In my teens, I saw them as a devoted couple who loved each other, their children, our church, community, schools, nation.   In my late teens & early twenties, I started to get an inkling that they had very different expectations for me than they had for my eight years older sister – I noticed it, but it didn’t fully register.  That didn’t happen until after my father was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor & died – at 63 – when I was barely into my twenties.  That was when I first fully experienced honoring my father by being there for my mother.  Not that I had any choice in the beginning of her long widowhood – was in my junior year of college, living at home & close enough to walk to classes.

Between the time Dad died & Mom was reunited with her O Best Beloved, 28 years later, the longest Mom & I lived apart were the months between when I married John (I was 37) & when she, on the advice of John’s accountant, moved in with us.  (“If you get along with your mother-in-law so well, why are you helping pay her rent instead of her helping pay your mortgage?“)  Just a shade over nine months after our wedding, Mom moved into the room between my writing studio & John’s art studio, the very room she was in as she slipped from this life forward, thirteen years later.

John – an only – had a similar relationship with his parents.  His father also died in his early sixties, in his sleep from a massive heart attack.  He was his feisty fabulous independent mother’s strong right arm from the day his Dad died to his mother’s death – also in her home, also of a massive heart attack – at 87 years.  We were blessed that the two moms, who had six weeks were they were the same age, clicked & that what Mom M needed from us never clashed with my mother’s needs.  Mom felt purpose-less living on her own, while Mom M loved her relatively independent life on Akron Street.  John & I had the good sense to KNOW that we were blessed by our mothers’ complementary natures that complemented rather than clashed.

Good old-fashioned common sense – it didn’t hit me until now, but maybe that is what our experience with honoring our parents came down to.  Both of us were born with a strong helping of it.  Both us saw the need our mothers had of us, saw our ability to provide genuinely caring support, could see its win-win possibilities.  Maybe being there for our parents comes down to being in tune with what needed doing & capable of getting past the gunk that might get in our way of getting it done.

Hopes, Expectations ~  To be honest, the promise of a long life doesn’t ring my chimes as much as having one that’s full, balanced, blessed with meaning & purpose.  Thanks to being there for my mother, I have that because through working with her, dealing with her, surviving her, I learned the essential qualities of honesty, altruism & detachment.

My mother & I had very different expectations of family.  Due to her experiences from her late teens through to her forties with her own  mother, Mom saw herself as the THE person responsible for keeping things on an even keel.  Since she always saw us as being two peas in a pod, so she handed her expectations of herself down to me, especially after Dad died so young.

Mom was devastated by my father’s death.  For weeks, she sat in the living room, in the big lounge chair she’d bought for him, rarely speaking, rarely moving.  When she finally worked her way out of that incapacitating grief, started to come back to us, she seemed to divide their relationship between my sister & myself.  (I lived at home because I was still in college, Mim did because she would camp out there over periods of her life up to when Mom moved into with John & me.)  Mim drew out the emotionally-connected, caring energies that had been a reciprocal part of my parents’ relationship, while she gave me the protective role Dad had always devoted to her.  And thus it stayed for 24 years, until she was 87, when she opened herself up to change in how she saw herself, her children, the family.  All of this is my long way of saying that while Mom lived with me for 28 years, none of them were easy, on either of us.  And yet we made it work. In the end, by her death at 91, both of us were different, better people for having been in the mother-daughter relationship we’d sometimes wondered if we’d survive.

 It Ain’t Easy  ~  Honoring our parents isn’t easy.  Yet it’s what we’re called to do, through our faith, through once-the-norm cultural expectations.   The commandment doesn’t say, “If you get  along with your parents,” “If your parents treat you decently,” “If everything was great & they were more your best buddies than parents.”  Nor does it mean,  I believe, putting yourself & those you love at risk.  It doesn’t mean always agreeing, never getting upset, that there’s always harmony.  I camethisclose to a nervous breakdown, while she was often left her looking & feeling like a deer caught in the headlights.  There was serious friction between us to the last days of her remarkable life.

Full Disclosure  ~  In the interest of full disclosure, we did not accomplish this feat on our own.  Mom, whose love of reading grew even stronger as her energies dwindled, discovered Stephen Covey, Nathaniel Brandon, Marianne Williamson, John Bradshaw & many others in her late eighties.  We listened together & discussed their audio tapes, read their books.

Perhaps the greatest thing we did was read – separately – Ram Dass‘ well-thumbed,  Still Here,  with his beautiful observation that in situations involving the dependency of one & the needed support of others, that the roles of server & served dissolve into simply mutual service when if how the partnered care is approached with a right spirit on both sides.  We practically leapt with joy, sharing that passage, which so completely captured what both of us had experienced for three years.  And it harks back to the promise of the 5th Commandment, because is there any better life than one marked with true service, with meaning & purpose?

Mazel Tov!  ~  My thanks to Anne, for sparking my awareness of the forever relevance power importance of the 5th Commandment – if she hadn’t been feeling so low about herself & set me pondering how to jostle her out of it, maybe the full impact of a commandment I’ve heard all my life but had never given much thought wouldn’t have hit me.  Now, to get my head together, my writing processes honed & at the ready,  and onward to writing That Your Days May Be Long, nurturing a 5th commandment meme & mindset for the modern world.

May there be a blessing!