Jeni was almost healed from the surgery when another was needed, an unexpected consequence of the first. And so the cycle began again; surgery, hospitalization, discharge, a long stretch of healing at home. She returned to cycles of pain meds and ice packs, bed rest and sleep . I remain in my role as caregiver.
But after three months, it feels normal. The awareness of unoccupied time, of unfilled space, keenly felt after the job ended, has been replaced. This is a new normal.
The healing, the need to maintain focus on the medical circumstances which brought us both into this time are there everyday, at the forefront of our attention. I am well pleased to be her full-time companion, her caregiver. It is good. But there is more to it than just that.
Jeni left the world of work some while ago. Since then, we have spoken of the day that I would join her, end my working life as well, embark on a new part of the journey, enjoy the experience of having all of our time together.
Within this march of weeks, and now months, defined by her need for medical attention and recovery, shaped by hospitalization and appointments, we have each found something more.
There is walking. Walking was recommended on her hospital discharge instructions, light motion and activity. She has embraced it. On her second day out of the hospital, we walked halfway up the block and back. Each following day, the distance increased. Now, at some point during each day, she will ask to go out together. I hold her hand. Together, we saunter the sidewalks of the neighborhood. Each day, she increases the distance as well as her pace and endurance. For me, it is the best part of the day. We walk, we talk. Sometimes about the gardens and trees in the neighborhood, or the houses we pass. At other times, we talk to neighbors. There is time to look at this place where we live, to see it from the perspective of our meandering pace, rather than merely drive through it on the way to someplace else. As she has healed, it has become most highly prized. At some point in each day, I can count on hearing the question: “Want to go for a walk?” Some days, the question comes with the first light of dawn. This time together, defined by medical attention, has come to be equally defined by walking. It’s part of who we are now.
There is presence. We are together, for hours on end. Sometimes for entire days. There is seldom a moment during each waking hour when I cannot speak to her, or her to me, or simply reach out and touch her, wordlessly. In all our years, we have never had this. It is a gift, one which I am coming to appreciate more each day.
There is conversation. I read once that a relationship, any relationship, requires commitment, communication and common goals. Now, with the gift of unbroken time, we find that we converse more. Our communication is deeper, richer. The moments of conversation, unbound from the necessary brevity imposed by the constraints of daily working life, are now free to expand to whatever time we wish to give them. They can, and have, gone on for hours. They can, and do, range from simple observation to the depth of our souls. I have never known her half so well, as I have come to during these last five months. She tells me it is the same for her.
We have both realized a shift in the very nature of time. With the relative absence of urgency, we have found ourselves attentive to the moment, to being where our feet are. It is the realization of the words I have spoken to her, as a way to refocus on what is important now; this is a time of being, not doing.
Elsewhere in these pages, I have expressed my wish to know the experience of joy, in place of duty. Months ago, when I wrote that, I had no definition for joy, what it would look like, what form it might take, only a willingness to be open to it, in whatever form it might be presented. In the absence of certainty, I wished to be teachable and aware, whenever it might be revealed. As is usual with such things, I did not expect joy to arrive wrapped in the clothing of duty.
I am well pleased to be Jeni’s caregiver. Within that experience, I have also come to know the experience of being her full-time companion. And within that, we have both come to know joy, of a kind that only time and attention can bring.
My understanding of meditation is that it is about simplicity, about focus on only one thing, from a posture of stillness, from a quietness of mind, from allowing oneself to slowly be released from the human structure of time, from the mechanics of being a human within a society, from an awareness of the duality of being one, while being part of a larger whole, from an awareness that one can be both in the world but not of the world.
“Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience.
It isn’t more complicated that that.
It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is,
without either clinging to it or rejecting it.”
I am more aware of my acceptance of the present moment that I would have thought possible. I find myself opening to whatever life brings. I am aware of the release of my lifelong fixation on attraction v. aversion, the polar push-pull of whatever my human mind likes or dislikes, the growing ability to see it less as a dichotomy but more simply as what is.
The further she and I go together on this new part of the journey, I am aware of something greater than life lived merely on the surface, of a more universal perception of reality, and of our individual and collective exploration and acceptance of it. And within each moment of awareness, I am grateful.