Wednesday, May 20, 2015

What Counts

                                                            by Laura Crum

            Disclaimer--I want to apologize for the repetitive nature of my recent posts. I know that I talk almost exclusively of my current path of trying to understand what may transcend death. Trying to understand what counts. I am guessing some of you may be rolling your eyes and thinking, there she goes again. This is getting a bit morbid. And I’m afraid that you may just have to write me off when it comes to being entertaining.
            Because no, I am not planning to post many fun, light-hearted thoughts about trail riding or writing novels in the near future. This may happen eventually—who knows? But I know where my interest lies now. And it is directed towards what counts.
            I will immediately add that I am no expert on spiritual experiences. Nor, for that matter, am I an expert on horses or writing. It is quite safe to say that I am not an expert on anything.
            Also, I’m not trying to convince anybody of anything. Partly because I don’t think that ever works, and partly because I’m just not concerned with that. However it has come to me that I do need to share these insights—in the possibility that someone, somewhere, may find them helpful. So I’m trying to share.
            In the light of my husband’s death (and I mean that phrase literally) many things have gotten a lot clearer for me. Yes, I am sad, but I don’t resent the sadness. And more and more I find I’m being led to some understanding that I didn’t have before. I get many messages from Andy and he comes to me in dreams. At this point I have a lot of trust that we are going on together.
            I don’t need to prove this to anybody; I don’t even need to prove it to myself. I just follow where I’m led, and it is helping me. I find that I see the world very differently. The only things that seem to me worth doing are those things that are motivated by love.
            Of course, almost any action can be motivated by love. I work in my garden out of love, I go grocery shopping out of love, I do the dishes out of love, I feed the horses out of love…you get the point. I am aware of the love behind the smallest tasks that I do to take care of my son and our animals and the little life we have here. Taking my kid to his lessons, sending him texts on his phone-- all sorts of things that look very mundane are, in fact, motivated by love. And this is true not just of me, obviously, but of others.
  At the same time, I am mystified by the way so many people appear to lead their lives. Reading the paper, watching TV, dinking around on the computer playing games, concerned about who won the latest sporting event, ranting about politics…etc. It is very hard for me to perceive how these actions could be motivated by love, though it is impossible to judge others, and I am not trying to do so. I’m just puzzled. To me, it looks like killing time, striving to be entertained, seeking that frothy phenomena we call “fun,” or just plain operating by rote, doing the things one has always done for no other reason than habit.
Of course, I am not always able to act loving. I may intend to act out of love, but when I feel distressed or anxious or as if someone is stepping on my toes, my default reaction is to get openly upset. And I don’t mean weepy. I do not necessarily feel angry, but I often seem angry—even if I am scared. I am confrontational and blunt. I flip off the driver who has aggressively cut in front of me, I directly confront the “friend” who aims snarky little put-downs at me, I tell my son in a no-nonsense way that I won’t put up with him being rude to me or to others. I am no patient saint. I truly am not sure how my blunt manner and tendency to be forthright about my feelings can assort with my desire to act out of love. I do not necessarily think that love is an always patient doormat-like quality. I think love can be as clear and direct as a bright sword. Love has to be truthful—it cannot be false or it is not love. I do not know if love can be expressed in anger—but I think this could sometimes be true. Jesus driving the moneylenders out of the temple with a whip comes to mind as an image. The truth is that I just don’t know. I do know that I too often act angry and it makes me sad that I do this. But I also know that I intend to act out of love and I’m trying to be aware of my habits.
            One simple thing has become clear to me—for my own life, anyway. If I am not motivated by love, the thing is not worth doing. This would include things I do out of a desire to be loving to myself—buying a mocha at the coffee shop, the occasional embroidered blouse, having some blond streaks put in my hair—all little unimportant nothings. If I do them out of love for myself, its very different than doing them because I want to fit in, or I want to impress others.
            Anything can be motivated by love. I learned this lesson very deeply when my husband got sick and I began doing many things for him that he would normally have done for himself. Andy has always been a strong and independent being, and he would take care of his own business—and wanted to do this. But as he felt more ill, I scheduled his appointments and picked up his prescriptions and did anything I could to make his life easier. Now those who know me know I hate this sort of thing—doctor’s waiting rooms, traffic, lines…etc. And I well remember one particular day. I had been trying to get a pain med prescription renewed for Andy and he needed it that day. First the pharmacy refused to fill it saying it had recently become “controlled.” I went back and got a handwritten script from the doctor (took an hour to get this done). Then the pharmacy said that they didn’t have it—they would have to order it. I called around until I found a pharmacy that did have it, and I drove through traffic (took another half an hour) and found a parking place for my large pickup in their very crowded parking lot, and waited in line at the counter, and then sat for half an hour in the parking lot while they filled that prescription. Normally this would have made me gnash my teeth with rage and frustration and feel that I was wasting a perfectly good day on a hideous errand. But this day was different.
            I knew, every moment of the time, every step of the way, that I WANTED to be here. I had no resistance to this tedious experience. I wanted to help Andy—anything I could do to help him I wanted to do—out of love. It showed me that someone sitting in traffic, or waiting in line, or just going about the business of life, can be in one of two very different places—though you might never tell by observing him/her. Such a person can be simply killing time, acting out of habit and rote, perhaps resentful, perhaps just bored. Or that person may be doing whatever it is that they are doing out of love. And though they may be sad or frustrated by what they have to go through, the love is always there, underlying the actions, making them all worthwhile. It makes all the difference.
            My husband once told me (he was kind of a laconic guy) that love wasn’t about whispering sweet nothings in the beloved’s ear. It was about what you did. “I make your tea in the morning, and your cocktail in the evening, and cook you dinner. That’s love,” he said. And I did finally realize that he was right—and told him so.
            Now the importance of acting out of love becomes clearer and clearer to me. I think each of us is perhaps meant to do different things and express different truths to the world—so acting out of love may appear quite dissimilar from one person to another. Again, there is no point in judging others. But there is, in my view, a great deal of point in looking at ourselves and evaluating what we do. Are we just killing time in various ways, or are we acting out of love? Every step of the way, every moment of the day.
            Thoreau (one of my heroes) said (in Walden) that one cannot kill time without injuring eternity. I have always taken that statement very seriously. And now I believe I understand those words just a little bit better. Thank you, Andy.


Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Andy, love is what you do, not what you say.

I had a very close friend pass away unexpectedly 2 years ago. Over the years she had helped me with the horses, and we bought one of them from her. I still think she's there sometimes when I do chores, or when I'm working with one of the horses.I think it would be hard to lose someone who's been such a big part of your life and not feel their presence. But I still don't know what's true or even what I believe. So I certainly wouldn't be one to complain about you telling your story.

Sarah B said...

My dad passed a few years ago and it took me a darn long time to begin to address my grief and other issues surrounding this.

As a result I have truly.....ok enjoyed is not the best word.....learned from, respected, and reflected on many things you have written recently. There is great value in going through these processes publicly. Or if nothing else I have great appreciation for your willingness to do so.

Laura Crum said...

The reason I have written these posts and put them up so that anyone can read them is in the hope that they help someone else--even a little. Not that I am right or enlightened or anything special. Just that maybe some small thought of mine can resonate for someone else who is also struggling with this process.

Thank you redhorse and Sarah for your comments. I appreciate them.

Val said...

What a great philosophy for life.

Do you think that you always lived this way, but didn't realize it, or has your approach truly changed?

Having my daughter made me realize that love is what you do and continue to do for someone else even when you feel spent.

Laura Crum said...

Val, I think it has been a progression. Having a baby really teaches you a lot--as we've talked about--I wrote about this in my novel, Chasing Cans (I know you know). Before my husband died I had moved a long ways toward only being interested in things I did out of love. Many things I let go of because they no longer interested me--but it happened quite naturally. I've written about this some. But now it has become even clearer.

HHmstead said...

Thought provoking post... I will remember your words...