And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are hidden in the most unlikely places.Raold Dahl
My father was sick for a very long time before surrendering to cancer’s demand for his life. During those years, he kept everything that brought him interest or that he felt he might need, close by his recliner on an end table. That end table was cluttered with change in old prescription bottles, a glass always filled with coke or ginger ale, a dimly lit lamp with a large shade, his medications, books or magazines or the day’s newspaper, his reading glasses, pens, a notebook, and more.
When we cleaned house on Saturday morning, that table stood as testament to the truth that there is always only so much anyone can do. We dusted and organized it, pushed its sagging top back into the groove that was meant to hold it in place, but that didn’t improve its appearance … it was no curated group of right sized or colored items arranged in the perfect flat lay IG worthy composition. While he lived, that end table was the only thing preventing the room from looking tidy. You’d think it wouldn’t matter, but humans have this weird way of trying to behave as normally as possible while enduring horrible circumstances. It was what was most needed by a man who didn’t want to be a burden, all kept within arm’s reach because that was what was important. He struggled to do things that other people routinely take for granted, like standing up from the seat of that recliner because his bones had been devoured and the metal rods driven through his femurs to hold him all together pushed back when pressed upon.
Sometimes we’d tease him about the need to clean it up. He’d smile crookedly and puff out feigned resistance. We all knew what was happening. Other times, most times, I would sit on the couch across from him while he dozed, reading glasses hanging from the tip of his nose and newspaper crumpled on his lap under his hands, and watch him breathe knowing one day soon he would not. I’d study him, his face, his body peacefully slumped in a moment of pain free rest, that end table full of things, and look upon it all with unconditional love and compassion. If he loved all those things, then I loved them because he found value in them and I found value in him and the blessed and beautiful mystery of this quiet conscious moment. I imprinted those images on my brain and in my heart and on my soul such that even now, 34 years later, I can call up the vision and relive it … I see the color of his textured brown chair and dark wood table, I smell the dry pulpy newspaper, I know the cut of his blue jeans and the brush of his tan suede desert boots, I watch his chest rise and fall slowly and rhythmically, I can even hear the carbonated bubbles of his drink sizzling and popping on the side of his glass.
During these years I learned to view things through a very different lens … this thing that I think is driving me nuts? Would I miss this if it were gone? If the answer is yes, then I know that I drop everything that seems important in favor of focusing on what is truly important. Exchange the love of an uncluttered surface for what I learn about the person I love by examining the contents of the clutter. Slow down and connect to what remains when stylized expectations are shed and hearts are opened.
This post isn’t, necessarily, intended to be about my father, although it certainly seems that it is. It’s about the idea of staying present to what is real and in the way that it comes to us … as is … as a friend of mine and I like to say. I saw something today that reminded me of those long ago days when life was quiet, when there were only three channels on tv, when the phone was attached to a cord that was attached to the wall and all you could do on it was talk, when there were less options for multi-tasking. This thing I saw today was a cautionary reminder to accept things as they are and as a blessing. To allow experiences to be imprinted on my soul through my eyes and to not (always) view life through a lens. To be grateful for the unpolished, unedited, un-luxed, messy cluttered truth in its beautifully-imperfect realistically-accurate memory-worthy glory. To inhale the moments that Life and Love and God bring to us as blessings and lay before our feet asking us to value them as they are and recognize their immeasurable worth by truly seeing them with our eyes, so we can absorb them into our souls and incorporate them into who we are, who we are becoming, and know them as who we once were. We spend so much time pushing the things we don’t want anyone to see outside the frame of the image meant to convey something about our lives … why? Why do we do that? Do we think that if we create a perfectly minimized impression, omitting anything we don’t like, we will also buy into it as fact and live without regret? Or will regret ultimately be found in the lack of accurate artifacts from a life lived with presence, in the trenches and from the mountaintops, a celebration of comfortable ease, as well as unbearable pain, an impromptu and decidedly uncurated life experienced and documented in our minds and among the ones we hold most dear. To be a witness to shared experience, I think, is an elevated form of reverence. I don’t know for sure. I’m just feeling introspective and examining how and whether I am honoring the gifts I am receiving … thinking, questioning, and adjusting without judgement of myself or anyone else … with compassion for my cluttered, messy, and imperfect mind.