Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Caring, Hoping, and Cease Fires

"He thought he saw a Argument
That proved he was the Pope:
He looked again, and found it was
A Bar of Mottled Soap.
'A fact so dread,' he faintly said,
'Extinguishes all hope!'"
Lewis Carroll, A Strange Wild Song

The term “caregiver” has been on my mind lately. When does love fade from complex devotion into simple need? Don’t think of the myriad awful interminable little assaults to caregivers. Don’t think of the burdensome begrudged undignified duties involved in caring. I’ve been thinking of what the lover gives to the loved one. Can the loved one tell the difference between love and need? How do we need care and give care except through love?

Today, I’m wondering why can I devote lavish care to cultivating my garden (in the way Voltaire spoke of Candide, in my blog, and in my yard) while I resent demands to care for the people I live with? One could argue it means I care for the garden more than the people. I protest it’s not that simple. I think it’s a more complicated mixture of resentment at having to provide certain chores, putting up with the passive aggression and ingratitude, my growing desire to stop pretending to play nice, and needing care desperately myself.

I do know however, that I’m finding it harder and harder to muster the resources for caring. My body aches with new and strange pains, and they come more frequently and go more slowly. My spirit is exhausted by trying to steal moments alone to meditate and try to find my way back to the neighborhood of good moods. To good days and pain-free nights. To be myself again.

I think there is a cycle, or perhaps spiral, playing itself out. Good days and bad days. Honest attempts and resentful failures to connect. I’m less able to extend the good days; less able to hurry past the bad days. Our lives are spinning past, and daily we are reminded what we lose despite our best efforts to stay limber, inventive, inquisitive, interested, alive and together.

On good days I replenish reservoir of love for coming droughts, remember the promises we made each other, and do the simple math: there’s more good than bad. Way more. We’re not going anywhere, and we’ve managed to keep each other entertained pretty well over the years. It’s been a blast.

On bad days, I see old age as an unavoidable descent into indignity and dependence. Those days, I just try to remember it’s not a defeat to stop shooting first, no matter who started it. It’s the way we care for the ones we love. It’s also, incidentally, how we all care for each other. So stop shooting.


tina said...

Your words are all so true and hit close to the heart each time you speak.

Frances said...

Sitting here wondering how to comment on the depth of thoughts you are writing, I see my friend Tina cuts straight to the bone. Gardens and lovers and time speeding by, do stop the shooting please.

Brenda@View From The Pines said...

Wow, what this evokes is bittersweet. So wonderful to see someone writing what she feels, rather than what she thinks others want her to feel. Someone commented today that our posts were quite similar, so that's how I found you. Had to find out why. So glad I did. I love the way you write that makes me feel the words. Got you bookmarked now!

Cicero Sings said...

My 94 year old mother's pet line is:

"this getting old is for the birds"!

I had my time of it with her before we were able to place her in a home. And boy did so called, well meaning people put the pressure on me when I did "incarcerate" the poor dear. I would have been committed by now myself, if I hadn't of done it then ... 3 1/2 years ago now. I had to do the same to my father a few years earlier. Sigh. Evil daughter that I am.

Occasionally it happens that one runs into some one who truly knows what one is going through .... sometimes in the most unexpected places ... count yourself blessed if and when you do.

Martha in Michigan said...

What a lovely meditation, something for all of us “of a certain age” to contemplate deeply. You say one could argue that you seem to care more for your garden than for the people you love, but that truly is comparing apples and oranges, isn’t it? The garden makes many fewer demands upon you, and you can meet them mostly on your own schedule. You owe it nothing; you care for it because you want to for your own satisfaction.

I think you are onto something when you note a “growing desire to stop playing nice.” Perversely, we often treat strangers with more kindness than we do our own loved ones. I remember from my own caregiving days how beloved G was among the medical folks, with whom he was uniformly charming. Why wasn’t I getting any of that sugar, I wondered resentfully. But the truth is that kindness and charm, while they can theoretically be made habitual, are still unnatural; we have to work at being that nice. And such work is a strain we cannot keep up indefinitely, day and night. I think our deepest wish, as humans, is to be truly known by someone else — and loved anyway. We crave someone who will put up with us even when we aren’t on our best behavior, and we need the relaxation of not pretending, all the time, that we are better people than we really are.

So, you are trying — hard — to be the person you want to be, while those you live with have more often dropped the pretense. In some ways, it is the worst of all possible worlds (more Voltaire) because you get neither the relaxation of being yourself nor the up-side of them trying hard to be better people around you. You do the math (more good than bad), find respite in the garden when you can, and try to rally yourself to “stop shooting.” Reminds me of my favorite baby book, which wisely advised: whenever you find yourself in a battle of wills with a two-year-old, LOSE. Guess we could all use a bit more Zen consciousness.

emmat said...

I agree with Martha. I think people can be amazing ungrateful to their own families, to generous actions from their close relatives. It's not that they are horrible.. they just didn't question, they just didn't expect anything less. I look back now and think "why didn't my mum just do what my friend Daisy's mum did, and make a rota for chores and not let us get away with not doing them?". Sometimes, even the ones who are taking the mickey almost wish that someone would stop them!