I recently stopped drinking. I cut back in January and fell back in to the Bad Habits again by mid-February. I recognize these are, in fact, bad habits and nothing that brings me joy or helps me grow. For someone so introspective about the art of Being Human, in recent years, I’ve become unwilling to sit with what it feels like to Be Human most evenings.
As anyone who knows me would expect, since January I’ve read seven books about alcohol, alcohol addiction, quitting alcohol, motherhood and alcohol, and what alcohol does to women specifically. I have a truckload of facts I can rattle off and even many authors’ experiences I could relate to and share. This is all very fine and good, but facts and book quotes don’t take away the reality of physical addiction, unhealed emotional pain, and learned avoidance. That is where the work starts.
As I write this, the sun is still well above the horizon, even though it’s nearly seven pm. This is my favorite part of the year-- when the sun keeps our company 18 hours a day. As the day enters night, even with the sun stubbornly refusing to go to bed, the darkness is creeping up on me quickly. One year ago, tonight, right now, I was sitting with my Dad as he prepared to leave the temporary housing of skin and muscle and tissue. I arrived at their house in Texas in the late afternoon after traveling most of a day. He was waiting for me.
Now I am the one waiting. I sit beside the water, the place that grounds me while simultaneously elevating me, and I wait for Dad. Last year I made a secret deal with him. I promised him, looking in to his one good eye with his broken brain, that I would show up for him every year. I asked him to meet me. I asked for him to let me know what it was like. Being me, I joked, “Not sure how expensive postage is, but if you can’t make it, maybe send a letter.” He half smiled with the one side of his face that still followed muscle requests. I fidgeted at the time, using humor as a way of deflecting emotions has always been a coping mechanism. It’s what Dad and I have in common. I know he understood what I was actually saying.
Recently my daughter told me she isn’t afraid of death. “I think it’s your fault,” she confessed on one of our new daily walks since we entered Quarantine. It’s my favorite part of the day now, our walks together. I think she appreciates them as much. “See,” she continued, “your whole lecture about returning to the ocean and Pappa and Grandpa going back to where we came from... Well, I don’t think death is scary.”
I took it as a compliment. But barely. I think, really, I took it the way she intended it; full of fear and doubt followed up with support and love and acceptance. She witnessed two deaths last year. Two very important deaths. As hard as they were, she came out with a greater understanding of life and love and humanity. It’s all we can ever want for our children who face difficulties. We want them to come out of them as better, and more humane, humans.
I wrote this a few days after Dad died. Died? It still seems strange to say he's "dead", in part because I don't feel like he is. It might be some sort of denial, or that I'm still processing his death, or that after watching him transition to his pure self, I will never think of death in the same way.
Or maybe all the above.
On Thursday, time suspended. The four hours Dad begged to die, to go to heaven, will be known as the worst day of my life. I can't think of anything that tops this. It will also be known as the day I learn about my strength, my purpose, and how much I appreciate the past three years of mindfulness and awareness practice.
Turns out? All those monks, self-help books, and scientific studies are right. Being present, and aware, can literally prevent suffering.
Right now any call of urgency from my mother can wake me from a dead sleep to ready to run a marathon. This is explains how at 4am she called to me from the other room, "Leslie, I need help," and I went from whatever dream I was having to standing in front of my dad without knowing how I got there.
Dad, who has now several strokes that we know of to date*, was sitting on the bed confused. He didn't want to go to the bathroom like he said originally. Something else was wrong. Mom and I guessed and looked at each other with concern. These days we're on high alert for any changes or loss of awareness. We both thought this could be bad.
I grew up listening to the bedtime story of The Three Southern Bears. Have you heard the story? Something about Goldilocks being naughty and runnin' out on her mamma and daddy and endin' up in some bears' house. She ate the grits and it was too hot. She ate the grits and they were too cold. She ate those grits and they were just right.
Mamma bear always said "Whah Ah Spah Someone In Mah Beyed. Yayus." (Yes has two syllables, y'all. Yayus.)
"Introduce yourself, say your name, say her name," the guide instructed. I touch her, the rescued, wrinkled giant. "Hi Mae Thai, I'm Leslie." Our guide voices my excitement, "See? She knows her name!" Mae flaps her ears and I find myself grinning as big as she is.
The first time I came home from an extended trip in Germany, my brain went sluggish reading posted signs. Everything felt easy all of a sudden. It's funny how you adjust to the constant struggle to understand where you are or what you're ordering. (Pig Knuckle? Again?)
I've been fortunate enough to find myself in countries that allow me to struggle through communication. I'm the sort of person who is ashamed of not knowing the local language, or even more than a spattering of words in any other language than my own. I've spent whole weeks nearly incapable of communication and exhausted by the idea of trying to ask for directions, so I just didn't. [Enter typical "like a male" joke here.] I went mute for my time there and avoided talking to anyone apart from people at work or others traveling with me.