I had three children in three and a half years. The result, although wonderful in every other way, was several years of sheer chaos. I remember one morning, in particular, in the very thick of the toddler and preschool years. I had spent the day (since the wee hours of the morning) wiping noses, settling squabbles, rocking babies, making meals, cleaning up from meals, playing on the floor, and being needed at every possible moment. I was exhausted. The noise of little voices was echoing through my mind. I needed space.
I remember going into the bathroom and closing the door, knowing I had just moments before little fingers would be wiggling under the door and little voices would be calling, “Mamaaa!” from across the house. I sat down on the toilet and closed my eyes. It was quiet. It was still. It was peaceful.
I clearly remember noticing the silence and leaning into it, letting it wrap around me like a comforting blanket. I focused everything I had left on that silence and soaked it up. And I felt at peace.
The moment didn’t last long, as I had known it wouldn’t, but I emerged from that bathroom a different person. In the years that followed, I repeated that exercise often. When the house was a disaster and I lacked the energy to clean it, I looked for the one clean space and focused on it. When my workplace was fast-paced and overwhelming and I was struggling to keep up, I noticed the moments between tasks, when I had accomplished so much, and breathed deeply in the moment of reprieve.
As chronic illness has marked my life, the exercise has become even more important. When my body is racked with pain and I feel as though I can’t move, I look for the one part that isn’t hurting (sometimes there really is only one!). I focus all of my attention on that one part, and savor the relief from pain I feel there. When I am exhausted and struggle to hold myself upright, when my neuropathy sends burning pain up into my legs, when dizziness makes me feel as though the whole world is spinning, when the shower washes away whatever strength I had left… When I am in the thick of things, I look for the quiet bathrooms–those small spaces in the struggle that give me peace and reprieve.
Some weeks ago, I sat in the car a block from my son’s high school, our designated meeting place. I had had a series of bad days, flaring and finding it difficult even to get out of bed. My daughter was quarantined at home. I had returned to work (after being home with her) for a few hours that morning, and rushed to catch up on all that I had missed. I had found the energy after work to clean the kitchen and run the vacuum through. Supper was prepared and waiting to be heated when I got home. I sat in the car in the space between all the busyness and all the weariness, and I took a deep breath. And I felt content–in spite of everything–at peace.
Suffering and chronic illness truly go hand-in-hand. For that matter, living and suffering are a package deal too. I cannot escape them. But I am learning that I can carve out space for the good. I can focus my attention on the places that are right, just for a few moments, and it somehow lessens the things that are wrong. I can find the bathroom moments to drink deeply of the reprieve and restore myself before I climb back into the trenches. And it’s just enough to help me survive and find that, in spite of everything, I am at peace.
2 responses to “Minding the Moments”
I love this, April, and can relate to so much of what you’ve written–finding the tiny corner of clam, or the single body part that seems to be functioning normally. Perhaps the most instrumental thing in remaining sane through chronic illness has been keeping a “some lines a day” journal, where I note just one thing that brought me joy that day, whether a bird singing outside, a call from my mom, a hot cup of tea, or sleeping through the night. I think we need those reminders that not all is lost.
I love the idea of journaling just a line or two each day! It really does make a difference to shift the focus and notice the good.
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