What does it mean to live from wholeness?
I’ve been reading Quaker elder Parker Palmer, and by extension Thomas Merton, to seek guidance and comfort while I am visiting my aging parents. The visit has been marked by tremendous love and unfathomable discouragement as dementia has its way with my once vibrant and jolly father. My dad has always had a stubborn streak, but dementia has taken away his ability to cooperate, and I find myself wanting to run away from this situation like a sullen teenager rather than face the music of that thread of life named Kay Sterner.
Lest you think I have any prescription of how to care for an aging parent with dementia with ease in just 10 steps, let me divest you from that notion right now. I have no idea what I’m doing. This is where Parker Palmer, and his guide Thomas Merton, have come into play for me. They have reminded me that I need to be here and be present to face the task at hand — all of me, the dark and the light. And that means embracing the part of me that wants to run away RIGHT NOW, seeking fame, fortune, and ease.
So, here I am. I’m doing what I can. I’m smiling wryly at my adolescent self, feeding her bits of escapism in the form of television and tasty treats. I’m also remembering to take walks and pick wildflowers. My son has found a “pet” grasshopper named Lollyhopper, which provides me with a laugh and great joy. I keep having to remind him that grasshoppers don’t enjoy car rides.
We all end up in situations where escape feels easier than living into the present. Of course, some situations become so toxic you have to leave, but that isn’t what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about situations that call us to be whole adults — contradictions and all. Parker and Merton, and the elders who guided them, help show us the way to, as another wise elder says, “be here now.”
I find it helps to list your contradictions when life tempts you to shed your tether to your wholeness and fly away. I went for a walk yesterday and began to list some of my own to help me stay grounded. If it is any help to you, I’ll take the risk of listing some of the most pertinent to me right now.
I’m a princess and I’m a committed hard worker
I’m brave and I’m terrified
I’m a faithful daughter and I’m a sullen teenager
I have the patience of Job and I’m ridiculously petty
I’m faithful and distrustful
I’m greedy and I’m generous
How about you?
Walk steady, friends.