Living in the moment

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

A reader who responded to a recent column about dealing with Parkinson’s disease gave me permission to use her remarks with her name attached. I’m going to share her thoughts, but I think I will not name her since this is such a personal conversation.

It’s enough to say that she is a Fayette native and teacher, married and the mother of three nearly grown children. She is also a gifted writer, so better you should read her words with no intrusion of mine. (I changed her husband’s name.)

Appreciated your column today. It resonated with me as I also struggle with how to think about problems that are incomprehensible or intractable or both. How do I keep from becoming overwhelmed or cynical or both? I like your description of hope coming from the little things, the ordinary and beautiful and dependable things. Revel in those and...wait? Pray? Hope? Persevere?

I think gratitude is a key to receiving grace in perplexing and dangerous times. Sometimes I tell my students (only the seniors and only when I feel like the moment is right) about an “aha” moment I had many years ago.

For all the years I had kids in school I made their lunches. I’m concerned about nutrition, so I made sure the sandwich was on whole grain bread (sometimes Joe’s homemade) that each had fruit and veggies and not junk. I could have had the kids do it, but that was one area I wanted to keep my hands on.

Over the years it got to be annoying at times. This one had braces and had to have the apple sliced; that one did not care at all for peanut butter, and so on. But I really would get my nose out of joint when I forgot to make them the night before and I found myself rushing to make them in time to carpool to two or three different schools.

One morning I was especially agitated and running on a tight schedule when we pulled up to the carpool line at Fayette Middle School. At that moment the lift from the special ed bus in front of us opened and out came a girl I had met once before.

Keisha had a birth injury and spent her days in a reclining wheelchair, fed and changed at school. It occurred to me that the mother of that precious girl would give almost anything to be able to make and hand to her a lunch she could carry into school and feed herself.

The lesson to me was not, Look how much better you have it or how much worse off someone else is. It was about being oh so thankful for the gifts I have each day of health, the gift of children for as long as we have them, a home, a washing machine (something I grew to appreciate after two years in the tropics without one), a good book. Open up your heart to gratitude every day.

But that still leaves the big, hairy problems that we witness every day, even if we are not a party to them. As a teacher I think about race and culture and underachievement daily. The problems seem insurmountable at times.

I reflected to Joe not long ago that I have to focus on the small things – the individuals within the sound of my voice, in my sight everyday. Am I a dispenser of grace as well as a teacher? What do my voice, my body language, the content, the choice of words convey to the one in the back row, the one who’s late to class, the one who missed it the first time I said it, the one who never struggles? I can only do the next thing and pray it is the right thing.

And then do it again….

What you describe, especially the memory loss, brings to the surface my greatest fear. I have, of course, the chief predisposing factor for Alzheimer’s – a parent with the disease. Predisposition is not destiny and I make an effort to trust my life to the kind and wise hand of God. That does not mean I won’t get Alzheimer’s, but I trust God for the grace to deal with it if it happens, for mercy for my family, and for it all to work into something greater and larger than me.

I was reading today a self-published book by a college friend of mine that is actually quite good. In this story a character is a minister who talks about the life of Job having less to do with Job’s patience than it does with the idea that God is in the moment and that nothing is wasted – nothing is wasted. I will chew on that for awhile.

[NPR broadcast] a conversation between a former aeronautical engineer in California, and his wife. From the sound of his voice and his story of a new first grandchild, I would guess he is under 60, yet he is in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s and they are looking to the future while trying to live in the moment.

[The wife] said something to the effect that his life had been more focused on the mind in the past, but now was more focused on the heart. He remarked that he was coming to see how much more important are things of the heart than things of the mind. It was a touching piece and spoke to me, one who loves ideas and words.

No easy solutions, no long-term fixes, as the odds of death are 100 percent. But every day of life is a gift, something to be embraced and treasured and redeemed.

I view it as a journey with God: We know the destination but not the route, so we must trust the guidance and beneficence of our travel companion.