From There to Here…
Eons ago I was married to a man who had significant physical disabilities. Early on in our courtship, we figured out that the very week I was entering the world as a preemie in Harriman Jones Clinic in Long Beach, CA, he, eight-year-old “Bobbie,” was entering a hospital in Brooklyn, NY with the kind of excruciating headache that signaled the potentially fatal onset of polio.
In those early days of delightful courtship, I could never have imagined how pervasive that disease would become in my future husband’s life and the life of our marriage-- The gift that kept on giving. I use that word, “gift,” with irony, sarcasm and, yes, gratitude. Today I’m focusing on the gratitude…
It’s not hard to imagine some of the more obvious limitations of a life on crutches. But one of the most innocuous fallouts involved the mundane act of walking somewhere together. Most couples walk side by side, right? Younger ones often hold hands. That simple, normal act was impossible for us given the underarm crutches Bob needed for walking. Early on in our relationship, I carefully distanced myself from my boyfriend because venturing too close compromised his balance and risked bumping into “the sticks.” Falling for Bob was much more potentially disastrous than for people with typically-functioning limbs: If Bob took a tumble, it could mean breaking bones and landing back in the hospital to suffer yet more wasting away of muscle tissue and increased debilitation.
By the time boyfriend turned husband, my attitude started shifting about our modified walking protocol: I became resentful of our perpetually slow pace, and of how I imagined I appeared to onlookers: surely like some of the traditional wives I’d observed in Japan in the mid ‘70s, dutifully following 10 paces behind their husbands. Then, somewhere along that painful process of judgment and resistance, I began to notice more than my angst. With my languid pace, I started recognizing the shapes and colors of delicate grass blades and tiny flowers growing between the sidewalk cracks; I could actually recognize the clouds moving overhead... in time, I became aware of my breath slowing, my spirits lifting; my negativity was replaced with a sense of being more wonderfully alive.
I grew to actually look forward to walking with Bob; the practice became like what I later learned to experience as walking meditation. As I look back on those times in my early twenties, four long decades ago, I realize they might have been part of my introduction to the concept of mindfulness: that deliberate awareness of what’s going on in the present moment around and within myself—without judgment or resistance, and ideally in a spirit of curiosity, acceptance and even gratitude.
Another contributor was Irish writer, Jonathan Swift. In an essay I assume far less read than his Gulliver’s Travels, Swift wrote, May you live all the days of your life.
The first time I read those words, they struck me as so startlingly obvious! But amazingly, that single line continued to nudge my memory over the years; maybe I could say it even haunted me. And what began as a simplistic salutation gradually transformed into a profound mantra, a mantra that has helped motivate and sustain my mindfulness practice over the years.
One of my favorite exercises with “wholistic” life coaching clients, whether our work together focuses on self-compassion, stress management, grief recovery or mindfulness, is to have them visualize their own grave marker and epitaph after their death. “What does your epitaph say?” I’ll ask. Year after year, I continue to ask myself that question. Besides wanting to be remembered as kind, I hope I will have spent much of my remaining time mindfully focusing on the present moments of my life, with gratitude and awe. That choice will have enabled me to truly “live all the days of [my] life.”
I’ll be the first to admit to dwelling in the past and future far too often. (Most of us do.) It both astounds and saddens me to recognize how much of my precious time I spend regretting what’s finished and what I can’t change—the past—and fearing or dreading what may never happen in the first place—the future!
Inuit wisdom describes these time dimensions more poetically:
Yesterday is ashes, tomorrow wood; only TODAY does the fire burn brightly.
This From There to Here reflection represents my first in an ongoing column I’m calling, “Metta Musings”: writings offered in metta, the ancient Sanskrit word often translated as goodwill toward all. Buddhist themes like mindfulness will weave through many of those reflections and with no apology—In over 25 years as a life coach and former counselor, and with a longstanding formal and informal mindfulness practice, I don’t believe any of us can be reminded or encouraged too often about the need for embracing as many of our present moments as possible.
So, here’s to the journey. I sincerely welcome your comments. If you’d prefer responding privately, you can do so on my website (https://journeystohealing.com/) Contact page, or via my email: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can inquire about scheduling there as well.
May I, we & all beings live all the days of our lives.
My very best,
Deb ~ Journeys to Healing
Deb Langhans has worked in the wellness field as a coach/counselor, writer & speaker for over 25 years. She currently owns & operates Journeys to Healing on San Juan Island where she offers "wholistic" life coaching, mindfulness & grief recovery coaching, reflexology, Inner Journey Collage© & a developing line of products designed to encourage healthy habits.
Most services are available in Deb's studio or via phone or Zoom. For more information or scheduling, please go to www.journeystohealing.com (website). email@example.com (email), or 360.317.4526 (texts preferred).