I hit a rough patch a couple days ago. It started on the way home from work, with my carpool friend grimly but energetically recounting the world’s ills. Underlying that diatribe, I was dreading the next day: Grandma’s Bath Day.
My main job is caregiving for my grandma, who has dementia. For her, Bath Day is torture. No one really knows why, but anything resembling even so much as a foot soak makes her screech as though she’s being stabbed with hot pokers. Even if it’s all in her head, she’s clearly suffering. This week, it was my turn to assist when the bath lady came. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get through it, because it had been horrendous the three previous times (despite being called off once: the dread on Grandma’s part and thus mine was that intense).
Back to my friend, railing on about Trump and bombs and whatnot. My tolerance reached its breaking point: “That all gives me so much despair, I want to die.”
“Oh, yeah,” he cheerfully agreed. Then he kept on.
I withstood it until I was this close to jumping out of the car. Then I interrupted: “I SAID THIS IS GIVING ME DESPAIR! Please stop! I don’t want to be like an ostrich with its head in the sand, but I can’t stand it! I have to limit how much I think about all that, or I just want to die.”
“Point taken.” He fell silent.
I stared out the window and let my soul fly out of it, into the trees, to merge with the play of sunlight on green leaves. I guess that’s escape. Then again, isn’t beauty part of reality, just as much as innocents dying in Syria?
It’s hard to write this, but I think it’s good.
After a few moments of the trees and sunlight, I spoke again. “I’ve struggled with suffering so much, and I still don’t know what to do with it. I mean, I know it sounds crazy, but at one point I was thinking about how even walking on the grass is causing suffering to all the critters — the insects and things in it — that I’m stepping on, and I felt like it would be better if I didn’t exist at all. So I stopped to meditate on that, and I realized that if I believe in love the way I do — and I do — then the very essence of Love is with all those critters like a million times more than I can be. And I, too, am meant to be happy, to enjoy my life and not worry about every step I take. I can only do as much as I can.”
My friend understood.
Once I was safely in the golden white sanctuary of my room, I sat on the step with my favorite local organic beer (Eel River Acai), my feet on warm old concrete. I gazed at greenery, felt the breeze, and scrolled through social media for funny cat posts. I felt better, not thinking much at all.
Then I thought about how everything that dies returns to the embrace of the Earth. In that way, the Earth loves everyone the same, even the horrible people — even me, killing things with every step. All the horrible things pass — are neutralized and then transformed into grass and vines and dandelions growing out of sidewalks cracked by impact.
A couple bits of seed fluff floated by. Then one danced in through the doorway beside me, as though it were a faerie there to tell me it’s all right. Everything can somehow be all right even if it’s not.
So even though I couldn’t stand it, I could, and did.
Then I took up an invite to go to town, to my favorite bar (at the local not-for-profit market), and got drunk in that beautiful place with its beautiful people. And I felt better yet. Sometimes that’s the best I can do.
When the next morning came, I drove to Grandma’s, again caked in dread. When the call came from the bath lady, I told her, “I just can’t do it. I’d rather Grandma never have a bath again and die from being filthy than have to go through that.” The bath lady, an absolute saint, completely understood, as did the equally saintly hospice nurse, as did my equally saintly aunts. I don’t have to do bath days anymore.
In a way, I wish I had the wherewithal to “do my part.” But maybe I am doing my part. As Brett Dennen sang, “Sometimes all that you can do is say no.”