There are certain things I can do.
I can untangle a twisted garden hose. I can scrub a floor. Wash a window. Make a big pot of butternut squash soup. Hold a baby. Keep quiet while somebody vents about her troubles. I can listen. I can smile. I can applaud. I can apologize.
There are certain things I cannot do. Right now, the most blatant one is this: I cannot make my mom feel better. She’s had chronic pain since I was five – that’s thirty-seven years – and her physical challenges have worsened considerably this year. Despite the insanity of attempting an impossible task over and over and getting the same results, I blindly keep trying to make her feel better.
Most of the things I can do are small. In the grand scheme, they seem forgettable. But it’s important for me to do them. I need to untwist the tangled garden hose because it means I’m a player in the game of life, not an observer on the bleachers. It means I can use my will to do good things. It means I know my actions have a ripple effect so I act consciously. Untwisting the hose isn’t about untwisting the hose; it’s about signing up for life. It’s the opposite of giving up.
Sometimes I want to give up, especially when my mom has a bad day and I feel helpless and sad. Pessimistic thoughts try to colonize me. This is when I need to remember something – the most important thing – I can do. I can choose my focus, shape my thoughts.
Thich Nhat Hanh says, “I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy.” He advises practicing the mantra, “This is a happy moment,” and redirecting our attention to what’s beautiful, nurturing, joy-seeding.
“I already have enough conditions to be happy.” Sun on the leaves of the loquat tree outside my window. Eyesight. Rice in the cupboard and bread in the fridge. A washer and dryer. Two hands, each with four fingers and a thumb. Softening autumn evening light. These are beautiful things I can dwell on to realize a happy life in this moment. I can do this. It’s small, but it makes me feel better.