I often write about mindfulness. Many times I’ll punctuate my thoughts with a photograph. The photos are often of small vivid moments: flashes of color or texture or light that catch my eye and bring me into the present moment.
But the real test of mindfulness comes in the less desirable moments. When the answer to the perennial Zen question “What is this?” is frustration, fear or doubt.
For the past month, I set my camera aside and did not write, not even in my journal. It was an odd and unsettling time and I never felt certain enough of what the next moment would bring to put my thoughts on paper.
Yet it was a very present time for me, and there were very many moments of beauty that a camera could not see.
My mother finally got the transplant she waited for for so long. (Ain’t that a praiseful thing?) While the surgery went well and both she and her donor are on the road to recovery, the healing has not been without its challenges and complications.
Sitting at her bedside, waiting hour after hour (for the doctor to stop in, for the IV to finish, for the symptom to subside) I paid attention to individual moments.
When I cracked lame jokes in the hour before surgery. This is me masking my fear.
When we waited for hours to hear how the surgery went, not knowing that the surgical team had been called into another emergency transplant and forgot to tell us what happened. This is me getting angry to heat up the icy anxiety clutching at my heart.
When we watched the catheter bag fill up with urine and realized the kidney was working. This is me trying to keep my hope in check so I won’t be disappointed.
When the man across the hall in the ICU didn’t move and all the frantic attention from the staff day after day didn’t help and then I spent 30 minutes with his mother in the bathroom as she cried at the loss of her only son. This is me shaking and crying with empathy and gratitude at my own good luck.
When we would stay at my mom’s bedside until she was ready to sleep. Hungry and tired ourselves, but also unwilling to leave her alone to the waiting. This is me trying to be useful, because I don’t know what else to do.
In the weeks that followed were endless cups of coffee, hurried trips to stores for food or clothes or shoes to accommodate her rapidly-changing body, and more waiting. There were generous and loving visits from friends and family. A scary trip to the emergency room. And the strange merging of the NCAA basketball tournament with the daily test results that showed her metabolism slowly coming back online. (Both involving obsessive checking of scores and a lot of fruitless speculation.)
Underneath it all was the sweetness of watching living embodiments of devotion. The generosity of the donor, putting himself through a painful surgery on behalf of my mom. The long talks my brother and I shared as we spent more time together than we have in years. The complete vulnerability and acceptance of my parents as they held hands, gave and accepted help, growled at each other on occasion and fretted over making sure the other had enough to eat.
It was one moment after another of not being sure what to do, but suspecting there was a reward for the braver choice.
There are no real photos* to document it, but I’ll remember the views from her rooms, the smell of hospital and hand sanitizer, and the feel of the mask on my face for a long time to come. It was something we had all been waiting for for more than seven years and its culmination was as joyous as I’d predicted, and challenging in ways both expected and unexpected.
They were moments more vivid for their rarity and importance, calling me to pay attention not with my camera or pen but with my heart.
joined by her donor and other assorted members of the family.