When life feels intolerable, when I’m stretched to the end of my rope (like the past couple days), caught up in bad vibes, I can go to an assortment of meditations and practices (found in the Calm Comfort award-winning book which will re-launch after we get more ratings, with gratitude to you).
Those methods help me chill out.
Then my busy mind complains again.
That’s its job.
So I tell it: Geez, you think you got it bad.
Find a little gratitude, will you?
What if you couldn’t walk? What if you were paralyzed?
Then I remember a woman I met and cared for in the hospital 40 years ago.
She had short blonde hair, a pretty face, and more patience than anybody I’ve ever met, to this day.
She could not scratch her own nose. She could scrunch it up. She could blink, raise her brows, frown, and smile, and speak most graciously. She could move her head slightly from side to side.
That was about it.
I walked in with her breakfast tray, preparing to feed her, as she would be one of my primary patients this week. (She was here for a bone procedure, nothing to do with her paralysis.)
We did our greetings, introductions, the morning washcloth to the face.
“Ahh,” she said, refreshed. Such a big smile for the sensation of that washcloth. “A little more under the chin – and the neck, please.”
“Good.” It warmed my heart that she enjoyed it so much.
Then the opening of the tray, the silverware package, the juice cup, and all the actions my two bare hands could do (back in the day before latex gloves).
Holy moly, I thought, she’s hardly ten years older than I am. She’s only 33. And she is stuck.
“Yum,” she said, eyeing her breakfast. “Let’s have the hot food first.”
“Absolutely,” I said, digging into the poached egg for her. “Hey, I’m sorry about our toast. It is never crisp, by the time it gets here.”
She winked at me. “We’ll do okay with it. A little butter, no jam.”
I did as she wished, wondering if I could order some bread and slip it into the nurses’ lounge toaster.
She bit off a corner of the rubbery toast and gave me a look like a shrug without moving the shoulders. “It’s okay,” she said. “Would you – uh – dip it in the egg yolk?” As if that were a lot to ask.
“Sure! I love to eat my eggs that way.”
“Yeah.” She smiled.
She told me all about a TV movie she had seen the night before. She gave a fascinating critique.
That led into talking about another movie we both had seen and enjoyed.
I started wondering about her background, who she had been before this, and what she might still be able to do, despite her massive limitations.
What an amazing attitude she has, I thought. Just the fact that she has adapted to paralysis. Just the fact that she can smile and relax. Just how well she appreciates the little things.
She was showing me something important here. Something that spoke to my youthful impatience with life.
In walked a visitor, a good-looking, fairly young man who went straight to her bedside and kissed her on the cheek. Behind him came a woman about his age, and she respectfully stood off a short way from the foot of the bed.
“How you doing?” the man asked my patient.
“Good. Things are pretty good,” she responded.
“You got everything you need? Anything I can get you?”
“Nope, doing fine here, and the nurses are great.”
“Okay, well, we’re going golfing,” he grinned.
She gave a nod and a smile. Her eyes reached politely to the woman at the foot of the bed. “You guys have fun, then.”
Off they went.
I tidied up the used food tray.
“That’s my husband,” she explained. “He loves to golf. Doesn’t have to work much, since we got a big settlement from the accident, six years ago.”
“Oh.” I put the lid back on the tray.
As an afterthought she said, “And that’s his girlfriend.”
I froze in place, eyes wide.
“Yeah, they have sex and everything.” She didn’t try to smile. “Because. I can’t. And he needs that.”
“And you’re still married?”
“Yes, we are. He’s my rock.”
I have been flabbergasted ever since.
Every time I recall her.
Which is pretty much every time I dip my toast in my egg.
She seems to run through my life this way, like a message from my soul, or from her soul, to remind me:
no matter the awful circumstances, you can still be grateful for something.
A cool washcloth.
A breath of air.
A friend to rely upon.
How do you switch gears, to gratitude? Please share in the comments below.
(Thanks to maggyona on Pixabay for this image.)