I used to sit outside with my Dad under a wooden gazebo nestled on the outskirt of the woods, in what would be the final summer and fall of his life. It was an "activity" for us. He was now a man in a wheelchair and the trip outside was a way for us to escape to a quiet, solitary space away from the bustle of the other residents in the "health center" as the nursing home referred to itself as.
Previously, pre-Alzheimer's and debilitating Parkinson's diagnosis, Dad loved nature. He was an ardent Arbor Day supporter, perpetual National Geographic subscriber, and visitor of America's National Parks for family vacations. Being outside was like meditation for him. I believe he owned every nature book ever sold by Reader's Digest and Time-Life Books.
There should be no surprise then that on our "trips" down the hall, in and out of the elevator, down the paved driveway to the yard and over to the wooden gazebo nestled on the outskirt of the woods led him to a contemplative place of peace and calm.
We would settle in and I would blather on filling the airwaves around us with talk of whatever things were going on with my children or verbally poke at him for thoughts on what he was thinking. Eventually, I'd run out of hot air and fall silent. And it was in this silence that the magical moments appeared.
To fill you in, after a certain point, being able to determine Dad's eyesight or hearing was a wishy-washy act of prediction. He had long ago stopped being a reliable patient; falling asleep in the darkened room of the optometrist and no longer receiving hearing check-ups, presumably due to all the new check-ups he'd now receive post-pneumonia. So it was a little bit astounding to me when, on many afternoons outside, inside the wooden gazebo nestled on the outskirt of the woods, he would say, "Shh, do you hear that?" to the cars that were acres away buzzing across the highway below the mountain. Other times he would say, "Look! Look! Do you see that deer over there?" After thinking he imagined the deer, my eyes would adjust to the dappled light within the woods, and sure enough, there was a deer.
In being quietly present with my Dad, he was able to settle into a place of peace. That peace allowed him to engage his senses in the ways similar to how meditation makes one more aware of their body. When everything was quiet, calm and safe, he revealed to me a present in being present. It would be in these moments that he would articulate that he was happy, that he loved me. These moments did not come as frequently outside the cocoon-like space of the gazebo, and I believe they came because of the magical nature that nature creates when we are truly present within its infinite beauty. A beauty that speaks to us in whispers but can be heard loud and clear.
I wish for more gazebo moments with him, but they will never return. I also wish I had created more of those moments, instead of filling so many visits with a buffer of busyness in tending to this thing or that thing. Part of my "doing" was a way to look away from the reality of the changes his decline brought to us each week.
In writing this post today, I sit alongside my own patch of woods on the outskirt of my home. I hear the cars buzzing across the road an acre from my house, the birds chorusing in the air, the hiss of cicadas in the trees and see the chair he once sat in, happily, in nature, next to me.
My ask of you is this:
Today, if you are able, create a moment of un-doing. Of quiet and calm. See what comes to the surface of the silence. It might be listening to an album they love or sitting on the couch holding hands.
The expression, "It's good to be alive" isn't "It's good to do alive." Try being instead of doing. And let me know what you find.