Friday, November 22, 2013

When A Moment Changes it All: Appreciating What You Have—Right Now

When A Moment Changes it All:
Appreciating What You Have—Right Now

There are times, actually-- it seems like it is probably most times-- when we don’t realize that-- what we have right NOW, right here, in this moment-- is pretty darn good. For some reason, we never seem to get it-- until things change.

It takes a second, just a second, for the floor to shift underneath our feet.

Maybe its test results, a phone call, a news report, a missed stop sign, a distraction…

In a second,  it.  can.  all.  change.

Then, suddenly: (1) the life that we were just complaining about, and (2) the new reality, (3) run right into each other, (4) head on.

That collision provides a sharp, painful contrast.

At that moment, in the glare of the juxtaposition, we are given great clarity. We can see that we were taking it all for granted.

I have been struck by the history of it all. They say that 50 years ago today we lost our innocence. I say we were reminded, in the harshest of ways, how fragile and beautiful life is and how tragic it is when we lose. We saw how the collision of before and after can make it all so starkly clear. 

On November 21, 1963, the President of the United States was assassinated. In one moment, at 12:30 PM, everything changed. I am sure, like today, there were many critics and debaters, words not said, and moments of presence and gratitude missed.

This audio from NPR captured the moment the audience at the Boston Symphony Orchestra learns of President Kennedy's death. The audio has captured that moment when before meets after. The audio has captured that collision. To hear this moment and the beautiful eulogy, listen by way of this link below. One of the most moving documents to emerge from the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination is a radio broadcast. It's WGBH's audio of what was supposed to be just another Friday afternoon concert given by the Boston Symphony Orchestra — which turned into an eloquent eulogy for JFK.
AP Notice, 1963

These moments, collisions, come to each us. Some things happen to us all at once like the Kennedy Assignation or 911. And sometimes, a tragedy hits a family. And sometimes, you are alone.

I remember the moment I learned that my mom was very ill. I knew she had a cough. My sister and I had nailed it down to anxiety and thought if she just relaxed, her nervous cough would go away. I remember my Father’s phone call, a few months back, “Cath, this thing, this cough, well I guess its pretty serious. They say we need to get her assessed for a lung transplant. They say she’s in the window.”

I thought, “What window? Window of what? Lung transplant? She has a cough. That is all. Pulmonary Fibrosis? What is that?” 

What I said was something like, “Okay. Love you, Dad.” 

My before, hit my after. They crashed. 

After some talk, I hung up the phone and cried. My life was different now.

Zuri’s Story

“Hey Zuri, sweetheart, it’s Aunt Jasmine. I want to take you out for some hot chocolate. Can I come pick you up after your school yoga class?”

“Yeah, Auntie J. That would be awesome. It will make it a perfect day. I love my yoga class and then you.  And—its perfect cause I love you even more than yoga. Hahaha!”

Jasmine drives to Zuri’s school with a heavy heart. She knows she is Zuri’s lifeline. She has tried for years to handle Sherece (Zuri’s mom and Jasmine’s sister). She has tried to get Sherece to stop drinking, using, and gambling. Sherece is stuck. Jasmine knows that. She still prays everyday and, Lord knows, she loves that child, Zuri. How was she going to tell her that she, Zuri’s Auntie J, has breast cancer? The kid has nothing. She is essentially raising her two brothers and now this.

Zuri’s after was heading straight for her before.

I see them sitting in the café. Zuri said, “yes” to whip cream and “yes” to chocolate drizzle, and “yes” to candy cane sprinkles. Her hot chocolate looks absolutely fabulous. Her face has all of the signs of before. She leans in to smell the hot chocolate and gets whip cream on her nose. Jasmine wipes it off and Zuri laughs.

They catch up on this and that. Zuri says her mom is okay, “You know, okay.” Jasmine complains about work at the hospital, the hours. She talks about the grateful patients and the challenging patients.

Zuri starts to get a sense that it all feels like small talk. The more she does yoga, the more she has a sense of her belly. The more she does yoga, the less she can ignore the messages from her intuitive self that tell her when things don’t feel quite right.

“Aunt Jasmine, what is wrong?” Zuri asks.

“Ah, Zuri, you are such a smart girl. I have something to tell you.”

Zuri is in the last of the moments of the before. She catches it and holds tight.

“Aunt Jasmine. I love you so much. I love when we have coffee shop talks." She is stalling now, "I love you. I love right now." She sees Jasmine's eyes and feels desperate, "Don’t say anything more. Please don’t say anything more.”

As she spoke, before-time shifted. She couldn’t stop it. Time does that. You try to squeeze it and hold it and it falls through your fingers. God, the more you cling the faster it slips. Zuri starts to cry as she talks. She feels it slipping away. She can’t stop it.

The collision…

“ Zuri, I have cancer. Breast cancer. We caught it early and things look good. I have this sweetie. I promise, I have this.”

Before crashes right into after. It is a direct hit.

Zuri stared straight ahead. It was like she left her body. She saw herself, little, really little at the playground swinging on a swing. She was laughing. Her Auntie J pushing the swing. Auntie Jasmine was young and so wild and happy. She made Zuri feel so safe. Zuri stayed there at the swing. Her aunt, in the café seemed far, far away. The collision had left a cloud. Zuri had the sense that her aunt was still talking. Through the haze, she saw Auntie J’s mouth moving. She saw Auntie J pull Kleenex from her purse and wipe her eyes. Zuri saw all this and I see Zuri.

It was now just after.

“Aunt Jasmine, you will be fine. I can help, no problem. I am good at this. Jeez, I practically run my whole house.” She laughed, a nervous fake, empty laugh. There were no more tears. She was emotionally vacant and fine.

It wouldn’t be until later that Zuri would fall apart.

The alone-time in after-time. The crying-timeZuri’s life was different now.

And after the crying, she would learn to use these times to process and rally. She had felt herself leave when her Aunt Jasmine really needed her to stay. She didn’t want to do that. She had wanted to be there. Zuri set her mind to work toward presence. If she had been able to stay, she could have shared her fear and love with her Aunt. She might have hugged her Aunt. She might have sobbed and her Aunt could have held her. Zuri would have really loved that. Zuri thinks Jasmine would have loved that too.

The Process

In my masters program, I was fortunate enough to take class with Dr. Eugene Perticone (see link for his book below). He is brilliant and knowledgeable. He taught a class called Patterns of Emotional Adjustment. I learned more in that one semester than I have since to learn from any class.

We learned about the domains of coping, stress, and the role of emotions in our lives. As students, we actually felt that he could read our minds or see into our souls (or should I say we feared he could).

I learned about dissociation for the first time. I learned about trauma and coping and all of the games our minds play to hold us together. I learned that sometimes, we can’t quite handle what is happening and we check out. We wait. Maybe we don’t know we are waiting, maybe we think, “I have this.” But truth is, we are not here and our emotional selves are waiting for the time to feel. Waiting for a safe time to feel.  

Zuri will feel this in waves, like I feel mom’s diagnosis. It hits you when you hear an orchestra play Beethoven’s funeral march through a 50 year old recording (if you didn't listen to the audio above, do it now). It hits you when you are driving home from a yoga class, heart open and car doors closed.

It hits hard, like an undeniable wave, and you cry.

And then you think about how maybe you were not quite present enough in the before-time. I am lucky in some ways. I still have now-time with my mom.

What I hope for Zuri, and me, is that we stay here, in the now. Because the truth is that we are always in some kind of before-time. It is my prayer that it won’t take a collision, the floor shifting beneath us to be grateful for what we have.

I feel like I keep learning it over an over again. The time to be grateful is now. There is this thing, you see. The thing is, in order to be here, now, you must feel. And in that presence, gratitude is so easy. It needs no collision. It just is.

Promise me, Zuri-- and the rest of you-- that you take your before-time in FULLY and be of presence and gratitude. And if you want extra credit, use your voice.

It would go like this, “Mom, I love you. I am so glad we are all here together. You mean so much to me. Oh, and you have whipped cream on your nose.”

Showing gratitude
is one of the simplest
 yet most powerful things
humans can do for each other.”

Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

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