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Let It Mean Something

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

Visiting my mom in the old folk’s home is a lot like going on retreat. On retreat, the days can be long, as I sit, eat, and walk in a silence punctuated with my own restless thoughts. On my visits to my mom, we too sit, eat, and walk in a silence punctuated by her restless, repetitive questions (“Why did you come? Are you my guest? Why am I here?”) and my repetitive answers. Just as on retreat, there are moments of peace, stretches of boredom and periods of head-nodding semi-sleep, both of us upright in our chairs. For the days I’m there, nothing new is happening. Nothing much is being accomplished. It’s the same thing, over and over.

 

“Let the practice matter and mean something.” These words of my mindfulness teacher kept coming back to me on my most recent visit. He was trying to tell us that each meditation counted, even when it seemed like a lot of nothing. And it wasn’t about willing or creating that meaning, but rather about opening to what was already there. Visiting my mother meant something as well. If nothing else, it was a practice of presence and patience. It took me into an emptiness that challenged me not to fill it with distraction, but to pay attention to something more subtle and mysterious hidden within it. 

 

One day, as she dozed, I noticed a slim pamphlet lying on the coffee table. It was an unused expense booklet from my late father’s sales career. My mom had used it as the diary of a single month: March 1962, when my older brother was 4 and I was 10 months. It was a purely factual list of the daily round, chronicling grocery shopping, mending, childcare, meal preparation. Bridge club meant fruit salad in jello. My father’s long hours meant reheating dinner. 

 

Time collapsed then, not only because I could see her young again, imagine her struggling with two small children, the required social round, and a frequently absent husband, but because I had led an amazingly similar sort of life when my children were young, despite the gap in years.  I could well appreciate all she had done for my brother and me. This was a glimpse of a woman who had been as unknown to me as I now was to her, and yet it was also a point of connection, overlap.

 

Let it mean something. What would that be like?

 

It would mean opening to all the implications. To the flow of time and the gaps of time, to what was lost and what more there was to lose. It would mean mourning my own lost years, when my children were so small and so close. It would mean facing the prospect of my own aging, forgetfulness, falling away. It would mean facing the loss of the mother who used to know me, and eventually of the woman—vague but affectionate—whom I know now.

 

It would mean counting my presence with her as something that makes a difference to both of us, even though she forgets it as soon as I’m gone. Something that opens up the mysterious value of just being there with someone and appreciating their laughter, surprise or confusion. Something that gently, so gently, leads me to the truth that though all things pass away and nothing can be held, each thing is all the more precious for that. 

 

 

Let it mean something—even if you don’t know exactly what. Let it count towards your own education in wisdom and openness. Let it help you see how lost we all are and how easily we can come home, in each moment, to each other.

 

 

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Archer has been trying to make sense of religion since her parents first abandoned her at Sunday School in the 60s. She’s a mom, yoga teacher and repository of useless bits of information on ancient religion, spiritual practices and English grammar. Check out her column “Connections” in Witches and Pagans.
 

Comments

  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Thursday, 18 October 2018

    Archer, this story breaks my heart -- in the best possible way. Thank you for sharing it with us. Peace to you, your mother, and all the ones you love.

  • Archer
    Archer Thursday, 18 October 2018

    Thank you for these words Anne.

  • Tyger
    Tyger Monday, 22 October 2018

    Thank you for bringing this to us.

  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor Friday, 26 October 2018

    Thank you for this beautiful reminder, Archer. I used to wonder what was wrong with me, that I always seemed drawn to form relationships with birds with broken wings. But the truth has finally dawned on my consciousness. Everyone in the world – myself included – is a bird with a broken wing. None of us is a god or goddess. It’s because we all need wound care that we are put together. It not only means something, it is real. It is real for as long as it exists, and it will mean something forever.

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