When I was fourteen, I painted a picture that is hanging in my mother’s house at the end of a long, dimly lit hall. It is a picture of “God” as I knew God back then. He is old, with a long white beard, his eyes diverted by thought or impatience.
I am now fifty-seven. I have to pass this painting two or three dozen times a day walking back and forth from the kitchen to my mother’s bedroom—getting her water, her pills, or some forgotten item that would take her half the day to find because she gets distracted by tiny things like lint on the floor. She eventually forgets what she went back to her room to get and yells, “Maya, what am I back here for anyway?” I go to help her remember what she was searching for, not telling her exactly, but letting her discover it on her own, thus salvaging some sense of self-respect in spite of a failing mind.
When I made the choice to return home to live with and care for her, I found an opportunity to move into a flow of life that I had not anticipated or planned. Watching the Weather Channel and Wheel of Fortune like clockwork, spending hours dressing and undressing my mother, clipping coupons, taking morning naps that stretched into the afternoon. This became my new rhythm.
One night at the end of a day of tedium, I asked, “What is this all about?” Why have I stopped my personal and professional life to come and live with my ninety-year-old mother in Oklahoma? I got an immediate answer from that deep inner voice I have come to know as Truth, as God, as Spirit, as Love: the voice whispered, “To be fully present with your experience.”
So I am now fully present going to the Dollar Store looking for oversized Kleenex that my mother can’t live without. Fully present while assisting my mother as she struggles to get out of a chair and plant her feet firmly on the ground, wondering if she can take a step without falling. I am now fully present with my buried childhood memories, and fully present with seeing myself in another thirty years. This daily spiritual practice of being present is what makes room for both compassion and forgiveness to well up in my life with my mother.
Sometimes being fully present feels like a sentence. Like the gauntlet. Like a tall order. But I am doing it. Because I believe that if I am fully present with myself and in the minutia of life with my mother, then I will find the joy and wonder inherent in this passage we call dying. A passage that has us both becoming each other’s teachers, helping one another navigate through territory neither of us has ever been.
And my mother and I are not alone on this uncharted journey. Now, “God” is an unmistakable presence in the house, at the end of the hall, not only on the wall, but standing behind me if I fail to get up under the weight of the moment and when I fear I will lose myself and my dreams. I now feel the breath of love around the edges of my life with her. I can faintly smell joy in the air even when this is the time of letting death in the front door and finding a way to openheartedly welcome death and the divine to the table with my mother and me.