An excerpt from the book, Life With Pop: Lessons On Caring For An Aging Parent, by Janis Abrahms Spring, Ph.D., with Michael Spring.
May 25, 2001
Dad and I go to Elizabeth Park to get outside, eat our chicken-salad sandwiches, and enjoy the fresh air. We find a shaded park bench in the rose gardens, which we claim as our own.
I unpack our picnic and begin to wolf down my sandwich. I notice Dad peering into his. “Look at the colors in this sandwich,” he remarks, mostly to himself.
I look into my sandwich for the first time. Bits of red tomato, magenta onion, green celery, mauve grapes, amber walnuts. How great to take a moment to notice the colors in the world. Next month, the roses will bloom. Will I stop to notice?
I slow down to let my muscles uncoil. More questions. What is the point of this visit? What is the point of my life? What makes today worth living? Why do I pack so much into a day? Dad, my Jewish Buddha, practices mindfulness intuitively. I should take a lesson from him. Be here — now. Be aware of the miracle of your breath; the smells, sights, sounds around you.
In order to ground myself in the here and now, I dwell on the contingency of things, the fragility of our existence. “Dad won’t be here forever, “ I tell myself. “I won’t be here forever. Don’t take this time for granted.”
I wish there were another way. I wish I could appreciate this ordinary moment for what it is, and still maintain a sense of specialness and awe. I wish I didn’t need to be wowed, or rattled, to be impressed.
I look over at Dad, my aging father, sitting quietly on the bench. He seems content, just breathing the air. He doesn’t need to remind himself the end is near to enjoy our visit. He doesn’t need to terrorize himself with the elusiveness of time to value it. Of course, there may be more percolating inside him than I realize, but if I asked him, “How do you do it? How do you lend yourself so instinctively to the day?” I’m sure he’d say, “Does it have to be that complicated?”
For now, I put my angst, my tiresome angst, aside.
“Hey, Pop, how ‘bout we go feed the ducks?”
“That’s good,” he says.
I’m grateful to Dad, who teaches me to awaken my senses and inhale life, and exhale the toxins, the tumult I create.
JANIS ABRAHMS SPRING, PH.D is an award-winning author and board-certified clinical psychologist in private practice for 36 years. Dr. Spring is a recipient of the Connecticut Psychological Association’s Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Practice of Psychology, a former clinical supervisor in the Department of Psychology at Yale University, and a media guest on programs such as NPR and Good Morning America. She and her husband live in Westport, CT. For more information go to: www.janisaspring.com. Copyright 2009.
Photo credit: Dr. Peter Schmidt