I’ve been away. I had planned to write a post before I went, and I had planned to write a post for last weekend’s 10 Things of Thankful blog hop. But as fellow Scot, Robbie Burns, once said, “The best-laid plans of mice and men go oft awry.” (Well, actually, he said: “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley,” but it means the same thing.) The poem this line is from is To A Mouse.
My plan had been to spend an enjoyable week with my parents. Instead my father, who has had cancer for over four years, became very ill and went to hospital. Obviously, we’ve known for some time that this could happen, and my father is an old man, which makes it even more likely. None of that means these ten days or so have been easy for me or the rest of my family. Neither has it been a time of total misery: some days we’ve laughed, some days we’ve cried. Most days we’ve probably done both, sometimes going from tears to laughter or from laughter to tears in a few minutes. I don’t want to go into complicated details of my father’s condition, but will just say that without more chemotherapy he is unlikely to last long, and it’s uncertain how well his body can cope with more chemotherapy.
Yet even in this difficult time, there is much to be thankful for. I’m so very thankful that years ago I let go of old resentments and came to feel unconditional love for both my parents. I’m so thankful that they have been around until old age and that I have had the chance to get to know them better and better as the years pass by.
Like any family we’ve had our challenging times: I was no different as an adolescent to most, and they were parents of their time. Like many other people I did hold resentment for a while, and then gradually I began to let it go. As I did, I began to see that things were not how I’d imagined. I don’t mean that I was wrong and they were right either – largely because I don’t really believe in “right and wrong” in the sense that they are usually used. Instead I’ve come to see that all of us can only ever do what we do at any time because of the beliefs and emotions that drive us. Not one of us can know that, given the same circumstances, we would do anything different to those we harbour resentment against. I have been realising this more and more over the last few days during conversations with my father, and I feel very grateful for that. Seeing him still feel guilt over things he might not have done perfectly long ago, and encouraging him to forgive himself has led me to look deeper into where I still don’t forgive myself or others.
I am so thankful – and awed – when I think about how my father has become more and more open and more and more open-minded as he has grown older. He is truly an inspiration in this, an example of how growth as a human being never needs to end. I am immensely grateful that although his body is failing his mind is so strong, alert and wise. I am also awed at how he adapted to the changing world around him. At eighty years old, he learned to use a computer. Since then he’s also mastered the mobile phone, and can make and receive calls from his hospital bed, even though his eyesight is failing and he is now registered partially blind. I’m thankful for this not just because I find it so inspiring, but also because it means I could have a long conversation with him yesterday. I am so, so grateful for that conversation, for the chance to be able to support my father, to tell him again that I love him, and to learn from him too.
I am so intensely thankful that we took the trip to see my family. I had dithered about it for weeks, not sure whether to go in the summer time or leave it till autumn. When I finally made the booking my father was, as far as I knew, in remission and doing well. That changed rapidly in the few weeks until it was time for us to go. I’m thankful that my family pull together and support each other – as best as every individual can.
I am so grateful to the “singing nurse.” My Dad told us a couple of days ago about how a nurse came in singing folk songs and he joined in, and then they sang another song together. Then yesterday he didn’t feel well enough to join in, so she stopped singing. I love that she was so sensitive to his needs. I don’t know the name of this nurse, but I intend to find out and write to thank her personally. Nurses like her probably have no idea how much of a difference they make to patients’ lives. I’m also very grateful to the other nurses and doctors who have treated him with kindness and respect. After a few upsetting experiences in hospital he needed this respect and kindness and I am so, so glad he has received it.
I am so thankful for friends who accept my feelings and let me cry when I need to. I’m especially grateful for my friends who say it’s not easier just because my Dad is old. And I am thankful for the doctors who haven’t given up on my father because he’s old, but instead are still willing to do all they can to make the rest of his life as comfortable as possible. And finally, I am grateful for this quote landing in my in-box a day or two ago. The second part of it sums up my father. He is a very ordinary man, who has lived and continues to live an ordinary life, and yet he is extraordinary and unique.
Everybody is after being extraordinary. That is the search of the ego: to be someone who is special, to be someone who is unique, incomparable. And this is the paradox: the more you try to be exceptional, the more ordinary you look, because everybody is after extraordinariness. It is such an ordinary desire. If you become ordinary, the very search to be ordinary is extraordinary, because rarely does somebody want to be just nobody, rarely does somebody want to be just a hollow, empty space. This is really extraordinary in a way, because nobody wants it. And when you become ordinary you become extraordinary, and, of course, suddenly you discover that without searching you have become unique. – Osho (Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh)