How do you live in the present moment when the present moment sucks?
Not an especially eloquent way to state it but that’s what’s been going through my mind the last couple of days.
It’s not that life has been especially trying, not at all. But a conversation that I had recently with a wonderful nun really got me to thinking.
In preparation for my next column in the Catholic Free Press, I interviewed Sr. Bridget Haase, OSU. She will be presenting a workshop called “Walking the Path of Faith: Three Practices of the Abundant Life” for the Gather Us In 2013 conference sponsored by the Commission for Women of the Diocese of Worcester, a group I chair. During the conversation she spoke about the necessity of learning to live in the present moment so as to grow in the spiritual life. She shared about caring for her mother who had Alzheimer’s and how she had been plagued with regrets and memories of the woman she had known and loved, now lost to her in the haze of the disease. She began to realize that the only way she could cope with this loss was to accept her mother as she was, now, not knowing her own daughter nor remembering any of her own cherished memories.
I choked up, remembering my own mother, swallowed up by dementia, anger and despair, wishing I had known that wisdom. I shared with Sr. Bridget how a woman, Sandy, and her mother used to sit with us at dinner each night in the nursing home; her mother was just beginning her journey with Alzheimer’s. My mother was not the woman she had been and yet Sandy was able to accept her just as she was and perceive what she had been. She appreciated Mommy’s feistiness and when she began to fail, Sandy visited her in her room. After Mommy passed away, I talked with Sandy for a long time on the phone, thanking her for her friendship and telling her how much I appreciated that she was able to see the real woman behind the mask of dementia.
I never was able to be in the present moment with my mother because the present moment was too painful. I kept shrinking away from her, my fear trumping my love for her.
Friday I took a long walk during my lunch hour and again pondered this thought. I’ve written several posts about the joy I had found in walking, considering the fact that I have bad feet which had made it painful. For a time my legs and feet felt stronger and I had no pain. The walks reconnected me with nature and gave rise to wonderful reflections.
Since January however, walking has become painful again, legs heavy with knee pain, shin and muscle aches. Finishing my walk last Friday, I thought long and hard about the present moment as I slogged through the 90 degree heat with every muscle, joint and bone in my legs aching in pain.
The route I took that day was exceedingly pleasant. I had chosen to walk through Wellesley College and was delighted and surprised to find that commencement was taking place. Beautiful music and the sound of peeling bells from the tower filled the air as graduates swarmed on the campus after the ceremony. I took in those sounds as I walked along the edge of Lake Waban, stopping to take pictures of the rhododendron bushes flashing their parade of colors.
Staying in that part of the present moment was easy.
Upon returning to my office, the aches and pains set in along with the fatigue from the heat. The walk back became more and more difficult as I sought a path with shade and hills that sloped downward.
I struggled to stay in the present moment but the present moment was not a fun place to be. How do I stay there when my body is screaming “No!” and my mind is saying, “It won’t be long now, you’ll soon be back at the office and things will be better.”
The same thing happened the next day as I was cleaning out our swimming pool. We have a leaf net on the pool to catch the leaves from the numerous oak trees in our yard. I needed to shovel out the leaves. At mid-morning it was already 88 degrees and after only twenty minutes I had to stop. Sitting inside in the air conditioning I thought again about how to live in the present moment. It’s a puzzle I have yet to solve.
Thoughts of my friend Jackie come to mind as she lives day in and day out with her pain and somehow manages to stay engaged with life. My gut says I better learn what she knows as I face the challenges ahead of aging. I’m only 57 but somehow, this year, there is a greater urgency to learn this lesson.
I know the answer lies in the Cross. To walk the path that Jesus walked. He utterly embraced the present moment despite its horror, conquering it with His love.
A deeper spiritual life. This is what I desire. I better learn to walk the way of the Cross.
Copyright 2013 Susan Bailey
About the Author
Susan Bailey is the author of River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times (Ave Maria Press), and Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message (ACTA Publications), part of their Literary Portals to Prayer series. Along with her blogs Be as One and Louisa May Alcott is My Passion, Susan writes for the Diocese of Worcester newspaper, The Catholic Free Press.