Monday, January 7, 2008

The Hug

"Problems themselves are the highest opportunity we can ever have."
The Diamond Cutter: The Buddha on Managing Your Life and Business, Geshe Michael Roach

Last night my eldest daughter, Alexis, and I visited my mother in the hospital. She wasn't happy. She'd spent a night at my sister's and was back in, 'that place'. "I can't see why I can't go home to my apartment until I move into a lodge," she said. "I've learned my lesson."

Alexis and I both nodded our heads. "What if this wasn't about learning a lesson? What if it was simply about opening an opportunity for change that will lead to more happiness for you?"

"I would like to be happier," my mother agreed. "I have been very depressed."

"I get like that too, Nana," Alexis said, reaching forward to take one of my mother's crippled hands in hers. "And when I do, I don't treat myself very kindly. I talk to myself in ways I would never talk to anyone else. I say mean things to myself. I hurt myself."

My mother hesitated. She took her other hand and pat Alexis' hand where it rested on hers. "That's not good for you, Alexis. You don't want to turn out like me."

"I'd love to turn out like you Nana. You're kind and considerate. You're always doing nice things for people. I once wrote an essay in school about you. The assignment was to write about someone I admire. I chose you."

My mother straightened her back. Sat up taller. Smiled. "You did? That's so nice. Thank you." She turned to me. "I do say mean things about myself. I try never to hurt anyone else. I try always to be kind. But I don't like myself very much."

"What if you were to change your opinion of yourself?" I asked. "What if you were to tell yourself you love yourself?"

Her eyes flew wide open. One hand fluttered up to cover her mouth. "Oh, I could never do that," she said. "That would be too conceited."

I shook my head. "It's okay to tell yourself you hate yourself. It's not okay to tell yourself you love yourself. Why do you think that is?"

"I'm always kind to other people," she repeated.

"Mum, I don't want to debate with you about your kindness. You are a kind woman. You have a loving heart. You care about other people. You are also human." I reached forward to touch her arm gently. "Your intent is never to hurt other people. Just as my intent is not to and Alexis' intent is not to. But sometimes, our intentions trigger things in other people, or get messed up by our fear and worry and habit and self-loathing that when they are expressed, they come out in ways that cause other people pain. When that happens, all we can do then is apologize and commit to living up to our highest intention."

She shook her head from side to side. Tears formed in the corners of her eyes. "But I've never hurt anyone else. Just me."

"What if you have hurt others, even though you didn't mean to? Could you forgive yourself?"

"Of course," she answered quickly.

"And could you love yourself even if you have hurt others?"

She paused. "I hurt myself all the time. I don't eat. I do things that drag me down. I.... It's all my fault."

"What if fault is not the issue? What if you could do it differently?"

"But I don't know what to do differently," she said, her eyes pleading for understanding, help, compassion.

"What if you were to start with telling yourself you love yourself?"

Alexis and I spent a couple of hours sitting and chatting, laughing and crying with my mother. When we left, she walked us to the door of the ward. I gave her a hug.

I don't remember when I last hugged my mother. Sure, I kiss her on both cheeks in greeting and parting. I casually touch her shoulder. But I haven't hugged her in years.

Last night as we parted I wrapped my arms around her frail shoulders. She's lost a lot of height in the passing years. She's grown frailer, tinier, more fragile. But she still has her steely resolve. Her stubbornness. Her strength.

"So, mum," I asked as we were about to leave. "When those troubling thoughts enter your mind and threaten to drag you down with their insistence you are 'bad', what are you going to say?"

She smiled, lifted one arm up from the bar of her walker, her gnarled fingers curled up to as close as a fist as she could get. "I am a happy woman who loves herself." She smiled mischievously and added. "Ooh. La. La!"

We left her standing in the hallway. A tiny French woman whose life has come a long way from the far away land of her birth. Gracefully, as dignified as the Statue of Liberty with whom she shares her ancestry, she stood in the hall and blew us a kiss good-bye as the door closed behind us.

As we walked towards the parkade, Alexis put her arm around my waist and asked, "Do you think you would have had a conversation with Nana like that before Choices?"

"Not in a million years," I replied. "My ego would have been blocking my heart from hearing her fears and sorrow, her regret and her sadness. My ego would have been reminding me of all she's done to hurt me. I would have been so afraid she would say something to 'hurt me', I would have judged everything she said. I would have denied her truth rather than listen to her heart speak her fears."

We walked on, our hearts connected, our spirits lifted.

It was a magical evening. A night of open-hearted listening. A night to be awakened by the mystical power of forgiveness to heal broken hearts and fences and connect three generations of women in love.

The question is: Who do you need to hug?

No comments: