Recently, a friend sent me something from the ongoing archives of our friendship. The first item was a card I had sent her 10 years ago. On the outside of the card is a picture of four older women sitting on a couch together enjoying a cup of tea. Inside it says, "We'll be friends till we're blue in the hair!" and I had added a question wondering which one of these women was my friend and which one was me. Once again I chuckled at the sweet image and sentiments and also felt intense gratitude for this particular friendship and for all the women in my life. My friend, by the way, says we are the gals in the middle!
My friend had also enclosed more sobering items from the friendship archives--copies of emails we exchanged the summer of 2002. That summer I was diagnosed with uterine cancer and far worse, my mother learned her colon cancer, which had been in remission for three years, had now spread. The outlook was not good. In addition, our daughter was pregnant with their first child, and our son was in the beginning days of a relationship with the woman who is now our daughter-in-law. To add to the mix I was preparing a series of lectures and discussions for a weeklong retreat several states away for a large organization of Episcopalian women; something that had been in the works for nearly a year. This is merely a brief outline of all that was going on during those summer days.
My emails suggest I was having a hard time dealing with the mix of situations. "One at a time, please," I shouted to the Universe. I have always been someone who moves methodically from task to task, completing one before moving to the next. I am not a good multi-tasker. One of the hardest learnings for me when I owned my own public relations firm and when I worked in the public relations department at Luther Seminary was how to stop in the middle of something, switch gears abruptly, and move directly to whatever had just come up. You would have thought that being a mother was good practice for that, but I had not come by that ability naturally and was constantly re-learning it out of necessity.
Obviously, in life it is never just one thing. There is always more than one thing that demands and requires our attention and energy. I was reminded yesterday of that fact when a friend told me about serious health situations she and her husband are confronting at the same time and oh, there is an aging parent in the equation, too. We don't have to look far to realize that we are all asked to respond to more than one need at a time. Having a job and being a spouse, a parent, a daughter or son, and a friend are all ongoing challenges and gifts and can't be compartmentalized, at least not very easily.
Yes, there are times when the focus has to be on one aspect of your life--healing following surgery or sitting vigil with a dying parent--but most of the time we have to deal with more than one thing at a time.
So how do we do that?
We become still.
Breathing and getting still takes no special amount of time or any specific place. It requires no permission or announcement, and we don't need classes in order to learn how to do it. Nobody needs to know that we in that moment have gotten still and are breathing.
How do we prepare for those times in our life, those normal, everyday, this is life times? We prepare by practicing now. Right now. Breathe. Get still.
I certainly hope I acquire these skills before I have blue hair, but at least I am practicing.
NOTE: The card is a Donna Day/Tony Stone image from Portal Publications.