Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Truth of Love, and the Art of Subtlety

Recently someone asked me if my parents talked much about dying, in the last few months of their lives in particular. I’ve thought about this a lot, and especially as I continue to learn what it means to a mind to think more deeply, to listen more intensely, to enjoy the intensity of “still waters running deep.” Our mother was famously subtle rather than overt in her expressions; to her, subtlety WAS overt. There were always ways of making your point to those who were willing to listen. Subtlety is its own art form. As her children, we appreciated this about her, and also adapted it in our own ways and personalities. We developed beliefs about communication, about listening, and share pleasures and the occasional challenges of similar interpretations because of this. Our Dad was also subtle in his way, and in some ways simpler than Mother. Their personalities were interesting, individually and together. I write this not to analyze their personalities, but to express what the question about their communication about dying prompted me to think about.

My mother seldom wanted to even talk about “being sick.” She teased me sometimes about my passion for organic food, and yet over time, when we would visit, she bought certain things she knew I would like, and “approve of,” as she said. I began to learn, through our interaction, even more about listening, about the energy of love, about the subtleties that mean so much. I didn’t intend to judge when I didn’t want to eat packaged sausage which had chemicals I didn’t want to ingest. Yet, over time I began to learn the difference in the energy of knowing my own “truth,” and how loving myself through my own free choices, when “true,” also flowed into the smiling way of live and let live, still, honoring all. I continue to learn this, as I learn to know my own mind, to grow my own mind, to love better.

Mother wasn’t a complainer. She had a high pain tolerance, did not appreciate whiners, and always preferred that people “get on with it,” rather than belabor anything. This does not mean she did not appreciate the subtleties of one gesture, or the right word placed just so. She certainly did. Less was always better, but only when appropriately so – the truth will show itself and be known, simply.

We children would try to find out more from her about what her doctors said, after she had appointments. We would ask how she felt. We were concerned about her, didn’t want her to “suffer.” Even this word, “suffer,” has its associations so intensely from religious belief. Middle English, French, Latin – the words “to bear,” have a different connotation than to “suffer” in my mind. “Suffer in silence,” is a familiar phrase. As time passed, and we all lived the day to days, we helped each other to pay attention to the nuances, to support as we could, as we knew to do. My brother wrote a beautiful poem in honor of our Dad which included these words: “because I am his son, I go, called to attend to, Perhaps witness/the black presence of illness…  his world is breaking open, mine as well…. Do you see this? He points, because I am his son, I see these things…” Dad was not a complainer either, which explained why his confusion at incapacitation at the end was what did him in. He was a lover of life, of people. He loved birds, he loved the simple pleasures of cornbread in milk, fresh tomatoes and salt, even instant coffee as long as it was the right temperature for his palate.  To Dad, life is through when you couldn’t DO. He would marvel at “things” as they revealed themselves to him – feel this, he would say, pointing to a knot on his head. It would hurt, and he puzzled over what caused it. He would smile when given answers. Once I asked him, many years ago, are you afraid of dying? He looked at me horror-struck. No! he said. Why would I be? He lived the truth of his convictions. There was no room for fear. Mother’s faith was equally strong, though her mind explored thoughts differently, I think. They had both grown up in families whose work ethic was strong and whose communication about emotions was more physical than verbal. An orange and a new pair of dungarees for Christmas on a good year, Dad would say, smiling at the memory. There were intimacies expressed in ways only that family unit might relate to, until told. The time, the environment, the beliefs, the scenarios invite opening, appreciating, acknowledging the growth as we live. Dad constantly expressed how we had so much to be grateful for, especially a loving family, the sharing of lives. Not long before he died, when I was visiting him in the Nursing Home, he told me he had been talking to God – this meant dying. He said it in relationship to being ready to “go.” I’ve been talking to God about it, he said, with utmost humility, and that little smile.

I have thought about what it means to die, and what it means to live. As I live and learn, particularly with the guidance of Spiritual Philosophy which builds on and around the religious foundation our parents taught us to illuminate the deeper roots of “thought made flesh (matter)”, I feel the strength of knowing more and more what it means to live, and therefore what it means to die. As energy, we live on – our memories live on. The idea seems simplistic, and yet the most beautifully simple and complex divine idea ever created. The original creation is life? How do we define life? As Kathy talked about her memories of nursing and asking patients what their beliefs were as they lay on their deathbed, I thought about all of this again. I have introduced myself again and again to the subtle and absolutely profound nature of change as the constant in our life, and the overt message does not escape me now: In Change we trust!  True thinking requires a motivation deep within us whose roots are love, and I understand more clearly than ever how we grow through the levels of fear-to-love as we live our many lives, even our mini-lives days and nights. How do we feel about “energy”? How do we feel talking about “energy”? Not just the solar power, wind power, turbine and nuclear, oil and the spill. The overt subtleties are there for us to appreciate, enhance, change, share as we become more aware. These are the gifts that keep on giving, despite what we do for a living, how many children we have, how much money we make or lose, what losses or gains we experience.

The dignity of life asks for honor, reverence, appreciation, love, which means communication, but not only in the ways we might want, or expect. Messages come in all ways. The key, I’m learning, is to know what message I’m sending, and to express consciously, beautifully, elegantly. Even if silly! The truth of love will be felt, and remembered forever. What’s left is there to build on, to shape as our own, to sculpt as we think, as we share, as we grow, as we think on our own.

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