DSC_0550E.’s grandmother is in the hospice. The head of her bed faces a small wardrobe with family photos taped to the pressed wood, and a large window that gives her a view of the tops of a few birch trees, and an expanse of sky.

We arrive just after the nurses’ aids have delivered her evening meal: a smoothie, a cream soup of some sort, and one piece of bread cut into 4 small squares, each with a dollop of a different kind of jam. But she says she has no appetite.

Remembering now, I almost write, “she sighed”. But that would be wrong. She was having trouble breathing. Speaking a single sentence was as exhausting as it would be for me to run up a steep hill as fast as possible. Or more so. Her chest rises and falls, with difficulty. And more rapidly than one would expect. Like a small bird–yes, the cliché.

She recovers slowly. Then asks about the weather. A single, careful sentence that costs her.

E. tells her that his mother had remarked earlier that afternoon that the day reminded her of apple-picking. His grandmother smiles and nods. She stares at the blue sky through the window. “An autumn day,” she says.

She has pain in her legs. In her stomach. She has trouble straightening her head on the pillow and needs to ask E. to help. To touch her on each side of her thin face and gently move it, just enough, to release a neck muscle that was gripping out of habit.

I stare at the mystery soup in the Styrofoam cup. I try to smell it, inconspicuously. But the other scents in the room are overwhelming: the mushroom smell of cleaning cloths, and spongy smell of green soap.

E. settles her head on the pillow. She closes her eyes. A few moments later she asks again, “So, it’s nice outside?”

Again, at a cost.

E. says yes.

I become aware of my feet in my too-tight dress-shoes; my hand in E.’s hand; I think about how I had commented earlier on our run, about the “bite” in the air. It had been a mindless complaint between strides.

I see now, through the window in her room, the jewel-blue sky and the cotton-ball clouds. It’s beautiful. And I want to be out there again, out in the biting wind that carries Jæren’s round/sharp smell of livestock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few years ago, over a long lunch, a friend was telling me about his morning – about driving to work. He was stuck in traffic, and felt himself getting angrier and angrier. Twisting himself in knots, and becoming increasingly upset about how his day was off to a lousy start.

IMG_20150623_081436Then the ambulance passed by.

His story still helps me put my own frustrations in perspective. I keep his story in my head like a post-it note on the door to the room where petty annoyances go to fester. It works for me surprisingly often.  I’ve been able to  turn daily inconveniences into a practice of gratitude: a reminder of what goes right, what works out in time, and what is ultimately important.

One of the great things about getting older is that lessons actually begin to take hold. This summer I was standing in line at a grocery store and watching the woman in front of me lash out at the cashier. Then at her elderly companion. But I was having a good day, so I could take a step back and I realised that it must hurt to be her. I’m sure I’ve been her. And just few years ago I would have made a snarky remark – if not to her – then to the cashier to let him know I was “on his side” of the conflict. I would have helped define the drama. Made a scene. Created a real-world narrative that would have involved two sides.  His and hers. But this was on her. I let it be with her.

I smiled at the woman as she left, smiled at the cashier, and told him it was a pretty day outside. I said I hoped his day improved, and that he would be able get out to enjoy the sunshine.

I have no idea what this woman’s story really was. But I chose to assume that she was under stress. Maybe she’d just come from the doctor with very bad news. Maybe the elderly companion was her Alzheimer’s-stricken father, who had just beaten her mother, who was now in the hospital.

(I have always had an active imagination, and can quickly tweeze out an intricate drama.)

I seriously doubt that these are the kind of compassionate thoughts that Buddhists want us to have when we are focusing on loving kindness for all people. I mean, I see that it is almost fantasising as a form of revenge. Not even “almost”. It is.

I haven’t been able to let go of this woman. Not like I should. But at least I haven’t held on to the anger.

This is where I am right now in my spiritual development. Working from the outside, in.

Trying to put good into the real world. And keeping the rest of it to myself, as fiction.