Look at the Bird
Author: Amy Ostwald
Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? Matthew 6:26-27, New Revised Standard Version
For much of my life, my mind has spun incessantly— either analyzing the past or worrying about the future. Some people learn to stop this “monkey mind” activity and find peace by learning to meditate; others take up running. Me? I am re-wiring my consciousness by entering into the world of memory loss. As some of you are aware, I am caring for my 92-year-old mother who has dementia.
My training starts in the morning when Mom begins her descent down the stairs. She forgets that she is 92, so I need to coach her: “Slow and steady.” It doesn’t help for me to be in a hurry; that would be dangerous. I slow down, too. Deep breathing.
As Mom makes her way to the table for breakfast, she looks out the window and remarks cheerily, “It’s a bright, shiny day!” Mom does not remember that she had her cataracts removed, so every day seems bright. There is no point to correcting her on cloudy days. I respond every morning, “Yes, it is!” And it becomes so.
Mom sits down and reads the newspaper headlines. She asks, “What’s all this about wearing masks?” For Mom, every day is like stepping into the middle of a movie and not knowing the plot. She does not feel the monotony and the burden of life during this COVID pandemic. Today is just like any day in 2019 — a new day to be alive. And so it is.
She turns her gaze from the paper to see what is happening outside. She wants me to notice that the wind is blowing and making the leaves ripple, that the light is making the tree trunks look pink, that there is a squirrel running up one of the pine trees, that there is a bird flitting around in the bird bath. With each comment, I need to turn my eyes away from the newspaper to see the natural world before me. And it is paradise.
At lunchtime, I place Mom’s food before her. I go back into the kitchen to prepare my own lunch. She calls out, “Aren’t you going to eat, too?” I believe this is code for: “I like eating with you at the table.” I join her, and it is indeed good to share a meal with someone who loves me.
At the table, we speak very little. Mom cannot offer much about the past, and anything about the future will need to be repeated again and again. It is best to enjoy eating the meal in companionably silence. I notice that the food tastes good.
At bedtime, our roles are reversed. I am now the one to tuck my mother into bed.
“Thank you for taking care of me,” she says. I reply, “And thank you for taking care of ME all those years!” We end the day with gratitude. Loving is not complicated — and God is there, in the present tense.
Oh God, Guide us to be fully present in every circumstance. By entering into another’s world, may our consciousness be expanded. We pray that our walk together will lead us to deeper awareness of your love and your bounty. Amen