Thursday, October 4, 2007

Demeanors, Cheerful and Otherwise

A couple of years ago, one of my neighbors had her first child at an age of distinction, somewhere over the big 4 - 0. Now, that's a big deal for the body, let alone the life style. To top it all off, this really rather fabulous neighbor went through an arduous labor and birth---that's her story to tell, but suffice it to say, by the time the new parents and baby came home, everyone could've used a break rather than the regime of a newborn.

An aside: this is why when I had my third and final at 40, I treated my hospital stay like a salon, gulping sleeping pills and handing my baby off to anyone wearing white. Are there support groups for women recovering from Attachment Parenting?

Anyway, while I was organizing meals for this new, exhausted mom, one of our elderly neighbors (who will never read this blog) politely declined and made a philosophical point. "I know you'll think I'm mean," she said firmly, "But you have to make these mothers get up and work. She can't get used to this kind of treatment. We're coddling her. Let her cook. "

Think you're mean? Satan has a new friend! George Bush can go home from his play date. Whew. Just when things were getting lonely in the inferno.

Now, the really important part of this story is that I have clung to this outrage and, because we never really go as far as hate, HUGE dislike for said neighbor all this time--for nearly two years! Clung to would be kind. I've taken this nugget of anger and really enjoyed it, allowing myself all kinds of words for 'mean' when I walk by her house, most of them unprintable here (because I promise myself no undue swearing -- I'll save profanity for something important). I've learned that it's particularly pleasing to imagine things exploding -- that adorable little house pops like a Bruce Willis movie--just boom. There's strange satisfaction. Of course, no one is in the house when it goes. Well, hopefully.

Last Saturday I went to a memorial service for my cousin's partner's mother. You get the picture -- an elderly woman I had only met once, a distant connection. But I love my cousin and her partner, and I went for them, knowing that once you're pushing ninety, not many people are left to come to your wake. Imagine my shock at the 200 plus at this memorial. I've never seen so many parked walkers. But young people too --whole families and not just those related to this woman.

My attitude: in and out, daydream during the service, home by lunchtime. Instead, my weeping dried out my contacts entirely; I had to throw them away and revert to glasses. The woman who died had been the wife of a minister--who himself is now 95 and steering one of those walkers. This woman had genuinely subsumed her self in service to others, her entire life. And from all perspectives, it wasn't that she was selfless or self-sacrificial in that icky sort of way. No, she organically and joyfully built a strong, happy and fulfilled self through serving others. It's that tricky sort of thing that nearly every religion demands of us, if we are thinking clearly.

Just when I couldn't possibly be more emotionally spent, her widower --the 95 year old minister--pushed his walker to the front to sing. "Great is Thy Faithfulness" isn't in my iPod but no doubt, no one has sung this as it was sung last weekend. A stunning, strong and absolutely pitch-perfect voice exploded from that failing, shaking body as he swept up and soared, then dropped to a whisper--face full of emotion.

I immediately regressed to my 10 year old Catholic self and promised God (even though I'm a self-proclaimed Buddhist) to be a better person, more like HER--a lot less like me! Driving home, I called John and told him I loved him ( I did!). Like Scrooge, all those ghosts and regrets sat on my shoulder as I compared myself to the ideal of myself that I far, far prefer. I took a stark and realistic assessment and swore that a more altruistic self would emerge. She's in there.

And still--even in the muck: guilt, existential angst, regret, repentance and redemption--I managed to drive by said neighbor's house and imagine it explode, with only the tiniest twinge of self-contradiction.

Never say no to a meal for a new mother, for heaven's sake!!

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