Saturday, January 9, 2010

Responsibility & Fragility

We are such amazing structures of skin and bone, so strong and yet so transitory. Yesterday I was remarking to my husband that I feel responsible for shepherding my elderly relatives safely through the ends of their lives. It is almost as if my hand is gently on the oar of the ferry boat taking them through their final transitions to the other side of existence. This sounded so strange as I said it, yet felt so true. I feel the responsibility to outlive them, in order to keep paying their bills, organize celebrations for their birthdays, keep them supplied with their favorite treats or experiences, sort out their catastrophes and health care debacles, and problem solve when their minds can no longer rationally cope. This is not a passive situation, as I am administratively responsible for two nearly 90's and in the heart responsible for two more of equal age.

In some ways, I approach this weight much the way I do in my asana practice when my knee feels fragile giving those warning twinges. All of this requires first and foremost the ability to see what is really there, be open to what might be so without judging, and not get swept away by conjectures, emotions, and the distortions that past experience might overlay. Clarity, compassion and action are at the core, allowing me to fully support the expression of fragile qualities.

Last night I got a call from my aunt that her name tag had been removed from the door of her assisted living apartment. She wanted to know if there was a change in her status, if she was being removed, if she should move out tomorrow morning. What did I know about it, and why would they do such a thing? She was hurt, furious, scared. To a stranger, this might seem obviously irrational, yet I know that her sense of self is fragile, her place on earth tenuous, her fear and anger justified by her deep family experience. The child of refugees, she hung on correct protocol to protect her, fashioning a professional career that was all about precedent and protocol, legalities and legislation.

I hold the oar lightly, but firmly, and ply it in the strange dark waters as I sense that boat below me, with this dear frightened person in it. Of course I reassure her that it is not personal, and I take the responsibility for facts, explanations and replacement. Just as I practice yoga with my complaining knee, I gently bend it, position the foot directly below it to transfer the weight, bring my awareness to the way my thigh lifts and my hip rotates, my pelvis carries the weight, my spine rises... in other words, the body in its entirety helps support the knee, not the other way around.

So often I think that fragility is frightening because I have forgotten to take responsibility for the support structure. Fear arises when I think something or someone dear to me is suffering or being taken from me, and yet as I grow older I find that although I may never be physically able to do certain poses, my abilities grow constantly in new ways I never imagined. Open to fragility, and responsible for supporting that, I am more and more available to myself and to others. Ah, once again, releasing judgment, letting emotion wash through with the understanding that the wave will come again, but the water goes way beyond the wave.

Dipping my oar, I continue to scan the waters around me, peering into the dark even as the light bounces on the crests of the waves.

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