Teaching this old dog new tricks? Really?
Dayo, Claire’s black lab/greyhound mix companion for the last 9 years, is getting older and not seeing as well. He loves retrieving the frisbee from the river but more often these days, he can’t see where it lands. Fortunately for us both he has figured out pointing. Once he is lost I, from the shore, call out and point to where the frisbee is and then he swims in the right direction. With verbal encouragement fine tuning and confirming his direction, he quickly finds it. In previous years I would throw rocks at the frisbee so that he would go to the splash. Now we are communicating better and finding the frisbee has gotten smoother. We are both getting older but, in this case, getting wiser as well, particularly when our limited energy means we need to find new ways to do things.
This old dog (I am now 63) is often exhausted and more so during this pandemic. I am my father-in-law’s caregiver, my wife’s househusband and Claire’s best friend who supports her more and more recently given the trouble she has been having with her knee. I am a really busy guy whose occasional early morning insomnia gives time to stop, reflect and write. Covid really put me in the soup as I cancelled all service to our home and instantly became totally responsible for my father-in-law’s care, providing his social interaction, his exercise as well as meals and general care. As I worked harder and found it harder to balance everyone’s needs, including my own, I realized that my father-in-law was slipping away faster now. The pressure this realization brought was intense as I am wired to make sure everyone is “happy.”
My Mom was overwhelmed with too much caregiving while I was a toddler. My colicky brother was born 15 months after me. When he arrived, I went from being the apple of my mother’s eye to receiving very little attention. Poor Mom, poor Danny. But when Mom took on the care of another infant 6 months later because a friend of hers was sick, what little attention I had been able to get (like sun and water for a plant) was further reduced. In order to survive in this depleted environment, I worked hard to make her smile, to try and help. Just as she was overwhelmed with us, I became wired to try to make sure she and perhaps my baby companions were ok, because if they were, maybe I could be okay too. While this wiring set me up for being able to handle my caregiving challenges, it also set me up for becoming overwhelmed and depressed, just like my Mom too. Fortunately, there is more to me than this strong patterning.
I have felt connected to all that is since my teenage years and while Jesus will always be my primary teacher and role model, I have also sat at the feet of an eastern master, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, my professor of religion, Marie-Francoise Guedon, a white shaman of the Athapascan people, and more figuratively Rumi, the 13th century Sufi poet and teacher. Initially reborn and baptised in the Spirit, I trusted God and sought to introduce as many others as I could. Now, I see that we are all God’s children and I see the light of devotion, compassion and holiness in people I have met from all religious traditions. So, in response to wired-in worry, depression and feeling overwhelmed, I am able to relax into the care of the One in whom we live and move and have our being. I practice breathwork and meditation, I pray, and I am open to discovering more and more each day.
I do believe that we are all connected to each other and to our creator. Discovering or strengthening that connection takes us beyond our reactive wiring and depleted sense of self to an inexhaustible energy supply and an expansive sense of self that enables us to be channels of grace and blessing.
This old dog needs to wake up and remember who he is! Despite the daily round of unending tasks in service of those I love, I am at the same time so blessed and full of grace. Just like how Dayo needs to stop and listen when he gets lost and confused and then respond, so too when I feel the foggy anxiety rising, when I become aware of my exhaustion or grief about past losses and anxiety about future ones, then I too need to turn to the inspiration of the One who holds me despite myself. For then I can relax again into that care that holds us all. I can find my way and in the end, it is all good.
Originally written September 2, 2020