Appreciating Time, Fragile Time
Once upon a time,
Ordinary time became
Once beneath time,
When my soul slid beneath Presence
And I became too comfortable being
I was fragile and brittle.
I might fall to pieces
Unless I can make the world go away!!
Do you know the Greek mythology of Zeus’s birth? His father, Cronus (the personification of chronological time), married his sister Rhea (who personified earth or ground, much like her better-known mother Gaia). As Rhea had children—Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades and Poseidon—Cronus was afraid of their potential power and devoured them immediately. To protect Zeus, her next child, Rhea hid him in a cave on Mt. Ida in Crete. Rhea substituted a stone wrapped like an infant for the hidden newborn and Cronus once again gulped it down. Eventually, Zeus emerged as a true threat to Cronus. Overthrowing Cronus, Zeus forced him to belch up the stone along with the five siblings. Zeus now controlled what the world’s great religions sought to control: time itself.
Caregivers understand that mythology. We understand that time eats us alive. Time can move so fast that it upends our world—or can drag along at an excruciatingly slow pace minute by minute, year after year.
This section of the book, “Telling Our Story,” closes with this chapter on time because these two challenges are in a constant dance: honestly telling our story as it unfolds, and coping with the unpredictable time we have in this world. Avoidance of these truths is the keystone of emotional and spiritual anguish. Or, in a more colloquial form: It’s what you avoid that will come around and bite your butt. For example, anger and the instinct to fight are among our natural protective defenses. But anger can often be a defense against facing our inner fears: loss of control, loss of a basic sense of personal identity—and loss of time.
In this book’s opening pages, I told you that I will help you identify and also give you permission to feel, to think, to express a wide range of emotions, yearnings, fears and desires that are yours as a caregiver. In one way, this seems strange because we think we know our own feelings and don’t think we need permission from anyone. Yet, the reality is that we can become so consumed by the tasks of caregiving, that we avoid expressing ourselves honestly. Often, we don’t step back into our solitude long enough even to identify our true feelings. When anger, guilt, shame and fear crop up in our lives, they can be deeply disturbing—especially if we feel they are a contradiction of our compassion and empathy and the focus of our mission. These contradictory feelings, often surfacing at the same time, can leave us confused and stymied. In the end, we realize that we need permission to think, to feel and to express ourselves.
The poet James Truxell wrote “A Prayer from Far Away” shortly after Thanksgiving morning in 1998 to express the “absurd, undeserved pain” that can erupt in our lives when the daughter of dear friends left her home and crashed her car into a tree, killing her instantly. Her infant child survived. It is thought that she may have swerved to avoid a deer or possibly fallen asleep at the wheel. Afterward, Truxell said, “This poem-prayer was part of my response to this tragic event. It’s a very, very raw prayer: honest, but raw.” As you read Truxell’s poem, may it inspire you to recall honest, raw responses to your own life now—even the confusing and tragic moments.
A Prayer From Far Away
Do not yield so quickly to the
Grave digger’s tool!
Not here! Not now!
It is too soon for one so young
To be in your lonely, dark embrace.
I would deprive you,
Of this one from us so violently torn,
Like the shovel that now would part your roots.
God! I insist:
Yield quickly to my demand to know
By what rule?
Why her? Why now?
It is too soon for one so young
To have “gone home to be with you.”
I would deprive You,
Would that I could with that shovel
Visit the back of your cosmic head!
Some small part of me –
The cerebrum, no doubt –
Knows that You aren’t like that,
Not one to snatch life away
Some small part of me—
A synapse or two—
Knows You are not a distant dictator—
Arbitrary and totalitarian in your decree—
Declaring “Take now this one;
And now the next!”
Some small part of me—
A molecule of serotonin dancing on a
Tiny, crowded floor—
Knows that You are among us as
One who also weeps,
Who knows the sting of
Absurd, undeserved pain;
As One who
Keeps the promise of
Alongside of us in our tears,
As the One who will,
One more time,
Survive our rage and
Yet bring us all—
The dead and those of us who feel
But tonight the larger part of me, Lord,
Is far from home—
In a country far, far away—
Where now I ask to be handed the
Maybe I’ll dig the grave myself,
Maybe lie down in it and take her place.
But maybe not,
For the larger part of me says this night:
“You’d better duck!”
—James M. Truxell, November 30, 1998
“I am so embarrassed—I told you four times I would write a couple of paragraphs for your book. I still haven’t done it. I have it at the top of my to-do-list and every night when I notice it, I’m just so tired I collapse. I am so sorry. I shall try.”
“I never seem to have a chance to rest!! I need just a pinch more time—there never seems to be enough!”
“I’ve spent most of my life waiting—always on hold. I don’t get any real acknowledgment and appreciation for what I have done and been through from any members of my family.”
“It’s the way we caregivers live—like the crawl of a slug.”
“Time seems to drag when life feels so hard and then it rushes by when it seems like it is going well.”
“Small things are magnified
With the shutting of the eyelids—
Too much imagination,
Where does my hope go when my eyelids shut?
Watching My Birds!
Birds on a wire—
From my watchtower—
I watch…I listen…I wait
For a Word…
Our Shrunken World
It is where we live now…
Everyday, he is in pain
and I live,
grumpy moments—his and mine. ”
—The poem of a caregiver
“Waiting rooms are exhausting. How many times—how many hours have we spent in waiting rooms over the last ten years? Doctors’ and Urgent Care Offices—they all look like cheap solutions to the problem of time—a way to keep the masses occupied and hopeful. Is there a waiting room anywhere with a current magazine?
“Yes, I get cynical, sometimes, very cynical—but underneath I go and wait and hope that this time we will get some decisive and permanent help. And, yes—once we get in there to the inner sanctum, nearly every nurse and every doctor does take us seriously, especially when we are there together.”
“Our world moves in slow motion—like molasses in January, as they used to say. There is no turtle and the hare race here, just turtles. That’s us—slow and steady. We used to ride bicycles and herald the joys of seeing beautiful things we never saw while driving the car. Now we see beauty at an even slower pace—I walk next to him with his walker and we see what the turtle sees.”
List two tasks you think that only you can do!
Snow was not predicted during the night, but the half-inch dusting of snow has turned everything white and, of course, snarled traffic for commuters and for us, too. But it is especially beautiful in this early morning as the clouds clear and the sun glistens off the crystalline surface. We chat about the difficulties of arriving on time for our breakfast date—it is nothing new for either of us—we are always running off schedule.
This is becoming our place—toasted cinnamon bagel with honey, robust coffee, delicious, comforting and often confronting conversation.
At one point, after our pleasant small talk, I say, “The scariest, lowest moment in my life as a caregiver was the morning my wife mournfully said, ‘We need to talk about the best time for me to kill myself. I can’t—no—I won’t continue to live in this daily pain and anguish.’ I was stunned, scared, bewildered, uncertain of what to say or do. I knew it was bad—the depression was engulfing both of us, but I was not expecting this. It was the lowest point in our 43 years of marriage.”
After a few minutes of silence you tell me about your most frightening, bewildering moment as a caregiver.