He is the truest friend of my life, and likely of the before of this life.
How hesitant I was, for the longest stretch of time, to acknowledge (even to myself) the reality of what I sensed again and again. For I had always been inclined to roll my eyes at someone’s account of a perceived “visitor” from the beyond, a being from another realm than this one of three dimensions, where time and physicality are operative.
My expression for it was “woo-woo.” How then could I accuse myself of the same nonsense?
* * * * *
Again and again I averted my skeptical eyes. Pretended not to feel what happened, at intervals. Struggled to dismiss, deny. Until that was no longer possible.
There was the palpable “maleness” of the visitor. The undeniably tender ways he had of trying to get through to me. An unmistakable whimsy attending it all. There was his orientation to me: for he was so profoundly knowing of my interior. Wishing me well, always. Undeniably wise. Endlessly patient, it seemed.
After a while, the energy it took to talk myself out of it ceased to be worth the effort, when everything in me wanted simply to engage. To take it in. To listen — if not exactly to things spoken, in a language sort of way, nevertheless unmistakable in their intent. Clearly something was being offered in the way of reflection. Guidance. Encouragement.
When did I at last turn frankly toward him, even unto speaking, addressing him aloud? This was many years ago, by now (more than 20). I recall the moment vividly, where exactly I was, when suddenly — quietly — I felt I was not alone.
“Well, hello,” I said, as if we’d been chatty forever. “You’re here, aren’t you?” I felt a smile.
Always, it seems, he is prone to smile. Always wishing me well, tenderly amused at me.
* * * * *
No one in my entire life — no friend or lover, no family member — has known me as well as he does. He knows me better than I know myself. Again and again this has been made clear to me. Nor have I felt so altogether cherished, in an unconditional way.
How patiently he has attended me through episodes of blind repetition of old patterns, and through so many turning points. Times I was on the verge of an uncharacteristic gutsiness, contemplating taking a stand, a risk, a leap beyond what my habitually tentative self would do. I didn’t always sense his presence — until the moment had ripened into a clear resolve. It was then that I felt him. Rejoicing, laughing, as if clapping me on the back, saying Good for you! This happened the night I felt fear leave me.
Nor would he have remotely judged me, had I erred on the side of the familiar comfortable timidity. Which I (a thousand times) did do.
How very patient he has been. How much he has helped me to see.
* * * * *
Like the time — most memorable of all — I had come to the conclusion that dementia had taken hold of me. Having looked in the eye the misunderstood “truth” of my recent vivid mental dissolution, I had set about taking what I saw as the necessary practical steps to set my affairs in order: to sort out an initial doctor visit, anticipating subsequent referrals to specialists, and to generate lists of possible sources of practical help, having to do with financial assistance and the looming need for bodily help in my living circumstances.
But my primary concern, during the intervals when my mind was able to focus, was to keep my diminished state from my daughter, who was happily planning for her semester abroad. It was to be the final chapter of her undergraduate degree, on the other side of the planet. She was to get on an airplane six months from the time the alarm bells began their worrisome racket in my head.
This adventure was asking of her an unprecedented (and atypical) courage. She was right at the limit of her comfort zone: she wanted the adventure that much. I was thrilled for her.
But how on God’s earth was I to conceal from her sensitively-attuned eyes what was occurring inside her mother? For I knew if she detected it, she would not go, loathe to put such a distance between us at that time of my deteriorating life. She had no idea what state I was in. How concerned I was — how anxious I was feeling about the prospect of her detecting one unfamiliar strangeness after another, with our seeing one another so often in those days.
With my having not felt anything remotely like anxiety for so many years by then, how bizarre it was to now feel at its mercy. While I had pretty much made my peace with what I truly understood to be dementia starting up, getting practical in my orientation to it, the episodes of anxiety were something else altogether.
How desperate I was. Not knowing where else to turn, I reached toward the loving, all-knowing presence.
* * * * *
My first mistake (well, the error following the big one I’d already made, mis-reading what was going on inside me and my mind) was to attempt to frame the sort of help I imagined I needed. I said, in the quiet inside my chest, Can you help me deal with this anxiety? Knowing he was already exquisitely aware of what I was going through.
I felt that soft smile envelope me. The tender presence said (without “saying”), Only love.
My next mistake was to suppose I understood the intended meaning of what he said — based on the previous error of assuming that what I needed help with was anxiety caused by gathering dementia. A string of errors was now following me around, none of which I had yet questioned the “truth” of.
What I understood “only love” to mean was this: when an episode of anxiety took hold of the concerned heart and mind of the mother of the would-be world traveler, all I need do was to gently re-direct my attention to the love I feel for my daughter. Or to the love for anything at all, really. Focus on love itself, and the anxiety would dissolve, at least for the moment. This I did, and it helped.
* * * * *
Weeks had to go by, with plenty of living-and-observing meanwhile, before the intended meaning of those two words would explode in me with great force. This is not dementia, dear heart, that has taken you in its fist. It is love: only love.
And so it was. When the dawning of clarity finally came, did he ever smile then.
He was right again. When will I stop supposing I know what’s going on, ever?
But he is so patient. Love incarnate, I am tempted to say. But he is (so far) invisible. He occupies no space.
The learning never ceases, no matter how awake a person is.
[from a forthcoming book by Jan Frazier]