I feel my zen slipping slowly out of reach. It’s not just one thing, it’s everything these days: the election, the dread of what’s to come regardless of who wins, family things, parenting things. One of my oldest friends (as in longtime, not age) has taken to calling me Debbie Downer on our text messages. I get where he’s coming from. Most of what we frantically type late into the night is about the election, and I really doubt there’s a human being on the planet who feels hopeful about what’s been going on in American politics. I’m not here to write about my views, but for the record: I’m with her. No doubt or question about it. And not because she’s the lesser of two evils, but because she is a superstar in my book.
But again, I didn’t come here to write about or debate politics.
Thursday night my mom fell, hit her head on the tile floor, lost consciousness, broke her shoulder and humorous bone, and fractured her knee. It happened during the wake for my dear friend who passed away on Sunday from ovarian cancer. I’m told there was a great deal of panic, emotions were fraught, everyone was sad and overwhelmed and then the fall, no one could find her pulse. Of course, I was here. Three thousand miles away. And I don’t want to write about that either, about the guilt, the feelings of helplessness, the phone calls and text messages to my sister and brother. It has been years of this through countless family crises. So, no, that’s not what I want to write about.
My mom is a fighter. One of the first things she said when she could was something to the effect of “there goes Christmas.” And, of course, she was thinking about the fact that we had already bought our tickets, that the four of us living here in NY are planning to spend the holidays in LA for the first time since my 15-year-old son was a toddler. Christmas means everything to her. She’s been on cloud nine since we told her we are coming. But again, she’s a fighter. And through the unbearable pain and disappointment and sadness and frustration of the long recovery ahead, she is focused on what she needs to do to move forward.
Sometimes — despite my best efforts — the worry seeps in. It’s not where I want to live, or how I want to live. But when I’m tired and stressed, my thoughts turn to all the what ifs. What if my cancer comes back is the big one, but there are plenty of others. Some are tiny annoying thoughts, others are harder to push aside (like the fact that we recently discovered the bank put a $10,000 lien on our house seven years ago and we have no idea why). I know I’m not special. Life is ridiculously hard and challenging for just about everyone. Yet still, moving far away from this mindset, choosing to live on the bright side, is the healthiest choice I can make.
Yesterday, while we were waiting to hear whether my mom needed surgery to reset her shoulder (she doesn’t, thank god), I was looking up flights and mentally trying to rework my calendar for the next week. For now, a panicked run to the airport is on hold, but not entirely ruled out. Still, my heart hurts with the heaviness of it all.
When I told my brother-in-law what happened, he asked about Christmas. I told him we are still going and he said, “we’ll just have to bring the joy with us.” Smart man.
When I think about walking this other path, finding and focusing on my own definition of inner peace, I think mostly about gratitude. It’s not about eliminating what’s difficult or stressful or frustrating, but accepting that those things exist. The absence of challenges does not lead to peace because we would have no perspective, no context. It’s the acceptance of conflict, the understanding that despite hard times, there is so much to be grateful for — that’s where my zen lives. And while there are times when I feel it slipping away, I know deep in the heart of my soul, that it is never really gone.
This is life’s work. This is what I hold on to. As bad as things get, I still come back to gratitude. And I know that’s not a bad thing, but it’s not an easy thing, either.