I love the week between Christmas and New Years – it’s such a mellow time, when life seems to slow down for a bit after the cultural frenzy of preholiday preparations. My practice for the past several years has been to spend the week in a reflective mode, reading over my journal entries from the previous year, and compiling a list of personal and professional goals for the next twelve months. I’ve also adopted the tradition of choosing a word as a theme for the upcoming year, a suggestion that has become popular in contemplative circles. Such was how this week began, lounging around with a second cup of coffee on the morning of the Feast of St. Stephen…until we got one of “those” phone calls…
Long story short, my mother-in-law apparently had a medical event during Christmas night, which landed her in the hospital. My brother-in-law who lives at home with her and who has special needs, was in need of supervision. Enter the Interruption. TR is temporarily living with us while mom recuperates.
For the past week I’ve found myself re-acclimating to a caretaker role, a position that for all intents and purposes I gleefully shed when my youngest child permanently left the nest. I’ve been involuntarily hurtled back into the state of disequilibrium I experienced when I had my fist baby, realizing that I am basically under house arrest, unable to freely come and go at will. My wings have been clipped. My silence and solitude have been invaded by the blare of the TV tuned to the shopping network, one of TR’s favorite distractions. I’m the commander-in-chief again of another person’s activities of daily living, marking the hours of the day by mealtimes, snack times, bath times and bed times….and I am a reluctant officer.
When asked what the secret to her long life and happiness was, a wise elder woman is reported to have said, “I have always tried to cherish my interruptions.” (in SoulCollage© by Seena B, Frost, p. 100) This challenging advice has been percolating in my mind and heart all week. What does it mean to “cherish” one’s interruptions, and just how does one go about doing that?
How do parents cherish the interruption of giving birth to a child with a genetic abnormality that will consign them to a lifetime of daunting responsibility? How does anyone cherish the interruption of the death of a spouse, a friend, a sibling, a beloved companion animal? How does a committed partner cherish the devastating news that they have been cheated on? How would any of us cherish the interruption of a cancer diagnosis?
There are those who believe that we call to ourselves situations and circumstances that we need to “learn” from. There is an idea rampant in the culture that the power of positive affirmations can shield us from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. What underlies both of these perspectives is the notion that we have some modicum of control over the vicissitudes of our lives. I disavow any such formulas and surrender to the truth that we live in a flawed and unpredictable universe. The attitude with which we approach our lives can indeed influence how we see and interpret events, but there is no cause and effect. What we have choice in is how we decide to respond to the fates that befall us. Therein lies our freedom and our response-ability.
It appears that my word for the year has come unbidden. “ Interruption” has chosen me. As I meditate on the phrase “cherish your interruptions,” it takes on the character of a Zen koan. What’s more important than figuring out what it all means, is engagement with the Mystery. Sometimes the answer is that there is no adequate answer. At this moment, I am only just beginning to accept that my comfortable life has been temporarily interrupted. Cherishing, if it ever happens, will be a process assisted by grace.
How might you cherish your interruptions in 2017?