Currently I am reading the book 29 Gifts: HOW a MONTH of GIVING CAN CHANGE your LIFE, by Cami Walker. (the purple link will take you to her website 29-Day Giving Challenge-you can buy her book there and learn about the global giving movement she has created!)
A new online friend, Kimberley, recommended this book to me. (I seem to be making a lot of new wonderful friends of late all through the magic of the Internet!) Cami, like me and about 2.5 MILLION other individuals around the world live our lives walking/limping/rolling side by side with this uninvited shadow/teacher called Multiple Sclerosis. . I like the image of side by side better than visualizing this mischievous companion inside of brain and spine, wreaking havoc. (Even though that's where it is physically) Side by side allows me to differentiate the me who is healthy from the parts of me that are seeking renewed health. Maybe that sounds ridiculous or like I'm playing pretend with reality...and maybe that's true...or perhaps you understand the creative perspective I'm choosing here.
Mostly, mentally, emotionally, spiritually I am quite healthy...in fact, mostly, my body is healthy, aside from my brain and spinal cord, my other major vital organs are in pretty fine working order...it's just that my central nervous system doesn’t always pass along messages the way it’s supposed to...and then my coordination is "different", my physical balance is "challenging", my speech is "interesting", my muscle strength is "variable", my energy level is "better than it was a few weeks ago, but still not what it used to be". AND at the same time, I can breathe on my own, walk on my own around our house (with the assistance of a cane for balance in other places or wheel myself about if I get too tired), I can use my hands to type out my thoughts, feelings and experiences, I can hug my daughters and husband, cuddle my dog, sit in meditation, move through some seated qigong sequences. Can I do all the stuff I used to do, like clean the entire house? (No) Do the laundry? (A little) Prepare meals for my family? (I can heat pre-cooked food in the oven) Drive the girls wherever they need to go? (Not yet) Go to yoga or NIA classes (again, not yet). I am far too fatigued to complete most of these activities, let alone start them. My body is healing. It is a process. This exacerbation will pass eventually. I remind myself of this daily. In the past few days I am noticing some gradual improvements...they are small, but they are happening!
MS (aka My Shadow-think Peter Pan) is sewn onto me quite well, (remember what a fine job Wendy did for Peter?) It seems to follow me wherever I go these days (which is mostly to the doctors/pt/acupuncture/and an occasional lunch date), but as I said before, it accompanies me, side by side. Admittedly, when I am feeling frustrated, experiencing pain, stiffness, garbled speech, profound fatigue...it feels more like it's climbing right onto my lap and trying to fill me up. Yes, I get angry and frustrated and cry, just like every body else that's having a bad day. But, let me get back to the beginning of this post...the 29 Gifts idea. Discovering the blessings in each moment and the acts of Giving and Receiving shift my thinking so the emotions and physical hardships don't completely overwhelm me.
Giving: Before I started to read this wonderful book, I noticed that giving was taking on a "New Look" for me. I started to realize that giving has a very important balancing partner, receiving.
Recieving: For years when people offered to help us (me and my family), I usually said, "No thanks, we're fine". Now I've been sick on and off for 10 years...it took all this time for me to "get it". I finally realize that being able to receive is equally important in the symmetry of giving. Receiving graciously completes the circle.
In the past when I was able to physically do more, people would thank me for things, and I'd say "Your welcome" with a smile, but feel a bit embarrassed, because whatever I did always seemed so small and not worthy of such heartfelt thanks. I didn't understand then that it is vital to fully accept other people's gratitude toward us when we give to them. I couldn't imagine that anything I did was that valuable to somebody else. Not that I was rude, I just hadn’t learned to take in the depth of gratitude the receiver was feeling. Now that my family and I are constant recipients of abundant generosity I see things differently. I feel things differently. I also could not fully grasp the impact of giving on the giver. When someone says, "thank you" from their heart, those two words "thank" "you" are a gift-to both the giver and the receiver! Those two simple words are part of the whole.
Maybe you aren't like me and it's easy for you to accept other people's gratitude. If you are like me however, (or like I used to be-it's a work in progress)... please, please listen to what I am saying to you right now: YOUR SERVICE TO YOUR LOVED ONES, YOUR FRIENDS, YOUR COMMUNITY IS OF GREAT VALUE AND YOU ARE APPRECIATED, RESPECTED, LOVED! And, when I say service…it might be as simple (and kind) as handing someone a tissue when their eyes fill with tears…opening a door…letting someone with a cranky, tired child step in front of you in line at the cashier…it might be a hug…a phone call…an email…a home cooked meal…a ride to an appointment or to work or school…maybe it’s a prayer for healing or simply thinking about someone who you know is struggling and putting out loving energy toward that person. Gifts take on surprising, delightful forms.
So how does this all help me to walk side by side with MS (my shadow sewn to the souls of my feet)?
1. I’m learning how to be a gracious receiver-from delicious home cooked meals from our extended Temple Beth Abraham family to allowing some friends to do our laundry (that was a tricky one to accept), receiving acupuncture from an incredibly compassionate wise woman, Sandra Gray, learning Qigong via Skype from my dear old friend (since Jr. High!) Art Baner, receiving phone calls and emails and cards and books in the mail (even apple cake, lovingly made by my Mom and sent to us in New Hampshire from Florida!)
That’s half of this circle.
2. I am learning to give in new ways. I cannot prepare meals for others, or even drive my car to visit someone else that is ill (let alone chauffeur my kids to all the places they need to go), gifts I have given in the past. But I blog…I share my thoughts, my hopes, my dreams, my photographs, (even my daughters’ inspiring photos and poems), my gratitude. I offer links to other wise, kind individuals blogs and websites. I share links to organizations that support others in these turbulent times of war/environmental disasters/poverty/economic difficulties and devastating illnesses. I speak kindly and encourage other patients at physical therapy as we re-train our muscles to do what they’re supposed to do. I always remember to say, “have a great day” to the many medical receptionists and nurses I talk to on the phone juggling appointments for my family and me. I email my friends when they are having tough days and they need advice or simply to let them know that I’m here "listening"; they are not alone. I email my friends when they are having great days and we want to be totally silly and make each other laugh. I do what I can from my bed (and there have been a lot of hours spent in bed in recent months) I give by offering words of inspiration, by sharing my story. It seems, from the comments and private emails I receive (daily) that this is a form of giving that is valued…that is healing…that is needed in the world right now. So it is more of an electronic doing, than doing with my hands and feet…but it is doing, it is a form of giving; people around the globe graciously receive it. And most importantly, the circle is complete because when I share from my heart and then receive the lovely responses back from many of you…I feel stronger, I feel loved, I remember that I am connected to others even if I cannot see or touch them. I know that on some level…perhaps many levels, I am healing.
Here is a delightful passage from Cami’s book 29 Gifts that I want to share with all of you. To set it up, her Aunt Janelle just flew in to Los Angeles, CA from Omaha, NB to help her clean her apartment.
Cami Walker quotes a favorite spiritual teacher, Lori Del Mar:
...”’A closed hand cannot receive.’ As I watch Aunt Janelle drive off, I realize that she hasn’t just given me the gift of a clean house. Accepting her help is a gift. It was challenging for me to say yes and have her come all this way to scrub floors, but I know Janelle feels happy that she was able to help me. It is such a relief to feel my fists unclench and open up to others.”
This morning I am going to see Neurologist number 3...Admitedly I feel a little nervous...but my intention is to allow my heart/mind/soul and fists to be open to whatever gift she has to offer me in the form of her professional guidance as my healing journey continues.