I am working on being present.
I practice most often at physical therapy, when I am forced to sit immobile for at least 15 minutes with a heating pad or ice pack covering my knee.
We patients sit or lay on tables about a yard apart, encouraging each other, swapping stories of injury. I have heard tales of 21-year-olds in car crashes, both legs shattered, wheel-chair bound for months, on crutches for months more. Replaced knees. Replaced knees again. Jet ski accidents. Today, a gentleman told me about his fight against a stubborn staph infection lodged deep in his leg, doctors removing piece after piece of his limb, wanting to amputate the entire thing. He was cured only by seeking an Enloe Hyperbaric treatment as a last attempt. Grim.
I try hard not to participate in the pity parties, nor to feel sorry, or dwell on the shittiness of the situation. Instead, I try to focus on the progress being made, however small, latching on to any thread of positivity or good woven through a somber tale. Like, thank goodness Mr. Stubborn Staph’s daughter, a vet, read an article about hyperbaric therapy and passed the info along to her dad. Thank the stars.
Maybe I do it for myself. I am determined not to keep company with my own misery any longer.
Sometimes conversations are non-medical, yet deep. About dependence. Vulnerability. The loss of a spouse. Loneliness. Memories of grandparents’ farms, completely sustainable, complete with fruit orchards, vegetable crops, cows for milk and slaughter, chicken coops, fish and soft shell crabs from the Chesapeake Bay. A granddaughter realizing her ballet dreams.
Conversations can be light and benign, too. My favorites are the ones about puppies. Actually, talking dog is what inspired me to be more present in the moment, in that place. It started with one of the aides, the Counter of Exercise Repetitions, the Getter of the Heating Pads and Ice packs, the Timer Turner-Offer, the Pillow Case and Towel Washer, the Mat Cleaner (I knew the job all too well, having spent summers of my own doing it). She was efficient, busy and hard-working, yet quiet, shy, and reserved. She hardly ever made eye contact. And then one day, she walked by me, told me I had 8 minutes left for my ice pack, plopped down next to me, and smiled. She wanted to talk! To me? To me! So we did. About school, about sisters, about South America. And, of course, about puppies. Turns out we both have Rhodesian Ridgebacks, something I never would have known, had I not went with the moment (ridiculous, but hard for me, as my
defense mechanism for authentically connecting with someone in fear that they will reject me instinct was to boldly and coldly ignore her and whip out my cell phone).
That puppy connection melted my cool defenses. It was an a-ha! moment: We all have so much love to offer one another, so much kindness and compassion and wisdom and experience and commonality and connection, if we would only just let it in. Or listen. And share. Now, sounds ‘woo woo,’ but I try to focus on each person as I am sitting there, patients and therapists alike, and say a healing prayer for them. Lord knows, we all need them. Of course, that is, if I am not interrupted by whatever precious tidbit the new person next to me has to offer.
I am practicing being present in other places, also. Like at the playground, where I had two most synchronistic and enjoyable conversations about public schools and autism. I have tried more with my children, too, but that is still hard. Being present for Play Doh for the 1000th time tests my limits. Although I continue to try. Thirty seconds more of ‘present-ness’ before I mentally check out and begin composing my next blog post is better than nothin’, I guess.
I feel like the Universe recently rewarded me for my efforts, though. My in-laws, my brother, my two sons, and I had just enjoyed homemade ice cream at our favorite shop/dairy farm. As the cherry on top, some local artisans had booths set up in the grass outside, selling their pottery and handmade wares. I picked a vase adorned with leaves, glazed in cream and green. My brother bought a piece, too, and my mother-in-law had bravely entrusted my two-year-old with her brown handled bag, treasure tucked inside. We were all walking back to the car, goodies in hand. Well, I was attempting. Crutching back to the car is more like it.
Enter an adorable, twenty-something blonde in a navy sundress, patterned with yellow, pink, and sky blue feathers. “Cute dress!” I exclaimed. “Thanks!” she replied. I was just about to ask her where she got it, when she cut diagonally in front of me, and started walking straight to the passenger door of my car. She yanked the handle open. As I was about to blurt out (rather mean-spiritedly, I am embarrassed to admit), “Um, that’s MY car!”, she smiled and asked, “Can I hold your crutches or your bag for you while you get in?” I said, reluctantly, “My bag, I guess,” as I squelched yet another paranoid thought of her flying off through the parking lot with my pot, me hobbling after her on one crutch screaming obscenities. I struggled to stay in the moment, go with the flow.
“Is that injury old or fresh?” the adorable blonde asked.
“Fresh,” I said. “Knee surgery, three weeks ago…”
“That is fresh!” (steadying my elbow) “There you go! Are you good?”
“Yup, I’m good!”
And then she leaned into the car and bear-hugged me. “Take care of yourself,” she whispered. “And watch that leg, I am going to close you in now! Bye!” Ms. Adorable slammed the door, waved, and hopped into her white pick-up truck.
My brother had witnessed the brief scene from the backseat as he was buckling the baby in. “Who was that?” he asked, climbing in the driver’s side.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“You didn’t know her?” he asked, in mild disbelief.
“Nope,” I replied. And then I giggled.
A hug from the Girl with the Feather-Printed Dress was exactly what I needed. My present — for being present.