Breathing in Community


Years ago, in another relationship in another time, my mother-in-law was delighted to get out for a ride in the car. Elderly and suffering from dementia, it was a treat for her to get out of her routine. She was in the passenger seat and I sat behind her. My late wife was driving. Helen had a need to say out loud every sign she saw riding in the car. Yield. Stop. Merge. Deer crossing. Sale. Danger. The commentary would go on and on reminding me of my chatterbox going on and on. It was comical until it wasn’t. She was surprised when we pointed out what she was doing. She had no awareness.


I question if it’s a gift or a curse to have memories pop up at random when I am out and about. Moments embedded in my brain that seem useless except to unsettle me.


On my own in Indiana, I lived in a hotel a short ride to the transplant hospital where my daughter resided. A taxi ride brought me back to temporary comfort. A routine helped ground me. My activities of daily living grounded me. A jigsaw puzzle was my go-to. Mirrors were painful to pass. My daily goal was to appear sane. My insides were shrieking.


I would find mundane tasks that helped me feel normal. One of those tasks was visiting the snack shop and buying a nut bar. I stood in line appearing normal, doing something routine even though other memories from Boston Children’s Hospital would pop in as I stood in line in the cafeteria appearing normal and falling apart.


I am amazed at the resilience of the human body, what we withstand and endure living our lives on this Earth. The suffering imposed on us by circumstances beyond our control. I want to ensure my grandchildren will not suffer and I can’t. I want to make pretty the pain of life and I can’t.


Our sense of purpose changes as we live day by day. My sense of purpose for 32 years was helping my daughter survive at all costs. I was also a mom for my healthy daughter, holding down a job, and managing a significant relationship. I was last on the list. I was driven to do more than I could handle because life wasn’t fair.


The truth was I did handle it though I thought I couldn’t. My internal chatter reminded me daily how unfair life was. I berated myself for not doing better. I imagined what normal was and ached for it. There was always some better way out of my reach. I was never good enough. The bottom line of it all was fear for the worst, fear of being out of control. Fear of the unknown. Fear.


It is really hard to stay present in the presence of fear. It’s easier to picture dreams and aspirations and busy myself with blame and shame. I don’t know how else I could have survived except how I did, day by day in the mess of my emotions, doing the best I could.

Life in this Pandemic teaches me on a daily basis to practice presence. Living in the unknown takes a toll on the body. A friend of mine, who lives alone, treated herself with a massage a few weeks back. She noticed the huge breath she released once the massage started, recognizing how tight and controlled she was holding herself for a year. When I’m out in public, I dive in with fear and trepidation instead of staying present with my task. Bracing for the worst.


Practicing a daily ritual with my community helps me practice presence. A feeling of support, togetherness, reflection and trust goes a long way in helping me be present in this challenging world. If I am overtaken by fear, I remember this community that practices awareness every day. I breathe in with this community in mind. We are together in our daily lives, enforced by our breath, aligned with our hearts. Thank you for joining me.


Participants Reflections:

  • Thank you for that reading. It brought me back to when my husband was faced with hospice or a lung transplant. We packed up and went to an out of state hospital. Every day, it was going back and forth from the hotel to the hospital for medical treatments. Trying to find normalcy to a day was tough. One thing that got me through was that I made friends with a community of spouses. It made something normal in a day, leaving it all behind and hope for the best. He had the transplant and we were able to go home after a few months. I’ve stayed friends with that community and it helped through that time period. When you were reading that, it brought me back. It was unbelievable. Community again really helped.

  • I understand that you mean about memories popping in. I’m not in a good space. I was thinking about how vulnerable I feel. All these years, as best I could, I’ve been trying to help my family member. Especially since the start of the pandemic, things have been falling apart. I feel like we are sinking further and further into an abyss and that I am having trouble doing things.

  • Thank you for your willingness to share because we hold you. It’s important that you remind yourself of that as you go throughout your day.

  • We have a Nana who is in long-term care. She was really like the energizer bunny. Then she had a stroke and literally lost her past and present memory. People often say, when they look at older people having difficulty that they wouldn’t want to live like that. They make a judgment. My Nana looked at me one day and said, very clearly out of the dementia, I have lost myself. She had this moment. I said, yes and it wasn’t your fault, you had a stroke. I can still find her. When I visit her, she asks how did you find me. I tell her I’ll always find her. One thing I learned is that we don’t know where we go when we aren’t there. She is perfectly happy watching the street signs and watching people. It’s increased my not knowing and my wonder about making judgments about where people are. We don’t know.

  • Because I was brought up on the Bible, here are times so many song verses are imprinted in me and they come out when I need them the most. In the past several days, I’ve been thinking about ‘bear ye one another burdens.’ When we are going through any kind of loss, it’s amazing to me how people we don’t even know are thinking about us because they know we are going through something. The buoyance of community is a felt thing. I think about the importance of community and having friends. Some friends are closer than others, some know us better than others. And yet, even acquaintances can lift the weight a little. Who can say how much? It really does give credence to the unity of us all. We must be one in order for that to work; otherwise, it wouldn’t. It’s part of the mystery, the buoyancy of being with this community.

  • Thank you so much. That was powerful. The line that spoke to me was it’s hard to stay present in the presence of fear. I’m not in fear at the moment and it’s hard to feel it. I try to put myself back into a fearful situation, it’s hard to remember. I remember being caught in a house fire. At that moment, one is so present in the situation, but at the same time the brain is frozen and we don’t know what to do. And maybe that’s it, we can’t be present in the presence of fear because we are frozen in the moment. Intellectually, it’s easy to say just feel the fear and do it anyway, or get over it or get logical. That’s all very hard. It does take tools. The more we practice, then the tools are available when we need it. That’s why astronauts practice so much so that when something goes wrong and the brain is frozen, we can react anyway. Maybe that’s what we are doing here, practicing and practicing. So that when our brains are frozen, they’ll know what to do.

  • I resonate with so much that has been shared. One thing I am aware of is when I am needing support, I probably show that I need that support. That was captured by your words, how you look on the outside versus how you are feeling. In crisis situations, I rise to the occasion. At the same time, because the occasion requires me to focus, I’m not responding to what’s going on and I’m observing it. Our culture supports that. I reflected on that, when you live in a culture that supports people being independent, problem-solving, people are admired who are competent and taking care of everything. And the idea of collapse, of being broken open, it’s okay as long as it’s a temporary thing. If it’s a chronic situation, it’s not respected. So I’m appreciating the role of culture as well as our own personal way of responding to it. I feel like this community is a different culture. It’s a culture of honesty and authenticity.

  • Thank you. Thank you everyone for what you’ve been sharing. I want to share something about the practicing. For the holiday, I was going to visit my mother for the first time in months. I scheduled the time with her. That morning, my mother left a message on my phone that wasn’t nice regarding her expectations of me. I could feel a sourness coming over me. I had spent time buying her things and preparing for the visit and had given her a heads up about the visit. The message threw me. I started looping about it. But then, because of all of you, I was able to take a sacred pause and use the skills I’ve learned from you. Like ‘do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?’ Looping like that was not serving me. And if I want to be happy, it’s for me to choose the higher way. The other skill you all gave me, is that if you are having difficulty with someone, relate your Higher Self to their Higher Self. I realized I was pissed, but my Higher Self knew that she was scared. When I saw her, I wasn’t mad anymore. Importantly, the rest of my day was not ruined. I didn’t spend the rest of the day bitter and engaged in this ‘love is a battlefield’ thing. I saw how much I had learned through practice here. I step in the hole a lot and maybe I stepped around it. So thank you.

  • Someone said our culture reveres independence and strength, and maybe temporarily being weak and vulnerable. That makes a chronic condition all the more difficult. The elderly aren’t well-revered, and mental illness has so many stigmas.

  • Thank you. Thank you everyone for your presence today. Having spent 15 minutes in honor of you, your inner child is paying attention, your self-worth is increased, and we believe that we count. It’s such an important facet of living our lives in this buoying presence. I hope you all have a gentle day.