I sat at my desk following Presidents Day weekend on approximately the ninth day of my captivity at the hands of my ego. As opposed to the ego I more accurately perceive when choosing to look with the fearless inner Teacher of common interests. Who takes nothing personally, realizing, as he always has, that there is nothing “out there” to personally take. But who had, apparently, well, taken another spontaneous sabbatical for about nine days, give or, you know, take. Although, frankly, trying to keep track had become just another exhausting chore on a To-Do list that never seemed to diminish.
I sighed, “the sigh” for which I was justly famous in certain circles just thinking about that, too. Even though only my little dog Kayleigh, curled in her bed at my feet with her back to me for failing to indulge her third attempt to score more chopped chicken breast, was around to fully savor it. But I digress as I am wont to do. Suffice it to say my ego had morphed into a towering, menacing, heavily armed super anti-hero again. As opposed to a tiny, little boy strutting around in a cheap costume wielding his paper-towel holder I tended to perceive when choosing to look with you know Who. A villain excavated from the pages of one of my younger brother’s old Marvel comic books. Enlarged and animated by “ancient memories” of the guilty crime of separation from our Source that in reality never happened, but in my IMAX-style fantasies had enduring, constantly shifting, punishing consequences that seemed only to grow more complex and real over time.
My husband and I had spent the weekend moving my increasingly frail and confused 93-year-old father-in-law into a smaller and less expensive apartment at the nearby independent-living home we had relocated him to from Maryland four years ago when my mother-in-law died. We hoped the new accommodations would enable my husband to secure the additional personal care services his father now needed while we waited for his painstakingly renovated home, finally on the market again back in Maryland, to sell and free up additional funding. A process prolonged once again by snowstorms and unusually frigid weather which, at least this year, so far, had not resulted in flooding or brought any more trees down on the roof.
In other news, my husband’s business seemed more threatened than ever by seemingly insurmountable, unrelenting problems. The download of fresh fiction-writing inspiration I’d received following the New Year had vanished from the disorganized files of my imagination. And various work projects had inexplicably ground to a halt. My body, too, seemed to be undergoing a complete breakdown, with injuries and illnesses experienced in the past once more painfully, distractingly, rearing their scarred, ugly heads, making sleep difficult and concentration laughable.
Then there was the matter of the boxes and debris strewn about our finished basement and inching their way up the stairs, chock full of framed photos, collages, and calendars of all things past. Not only in the lives of my mother and father-in-law but in the life of our own little family unit. I had wanted my husband to go through the piled-high contents below and towering upon the folding table dominating a quarter of the room ever since it appeared four years ago from the house he grew up in. But it had remained untouched beneath a sheet I had finally thrown over it in frustration to spare myself its sight as I worked out on the elliptical machine. Listening to another CD set of Ken Wapnick’s, wherein he once again sanely, eloquently, kindly emphasized that nothing outside us has the power to take our peace away unless we let it. I know.
The basement refuse had remained untouched until the previous week when my father-in-law’s predicament sent my husband frantically ransacking to locate documentation of his father’s service in World War II that might help us secure Veterans benefits for the personal care services he now required, leaving the previously rifled-through wreckage once more overtaking our entire basement rather than confined to one wall. Documentation we thankfully later found together while likewise ransacking my father-in-law’s apartment.
Then, too, all these photographs of our lives together, these calendars and compilations my husband had made as Christmas gifts to his mother without making copies for me as I’d requested years ago, appeared to have reopened a number of the ego’s dormant cases against him I’d thought I’d long ago put to rest. Simultaneously ripping the Band Aid off the hole in my heart my daughter’s move to Seattle last June seemed to have left and hijacking my excitement about an upcoming visit with her I had planned in a couple of weeks. Could I even afford it right now? And what if it only left me feeling emptier? More aware that, just as in these photographs, the best things in our lives together had somehow already passed, leaving only a slow-motion slide into my father-in-law’s state. Even though my husband and I couldn’t come close to affording a place like his by the time we needed it and would likely have to sell whatever meager possessions remained to purchase one of those converted shipping containers in which to painstakingly perish. I know.
Somewhere in the midst of these entertaining speculations on dilemmas past and future (that served their no-longer-so-covert purpose of preventing present joining with my inner Teacher) I played hooky on a weekday from another bout of writer’s block I had hit in a story I was crafting about an elderly woman who had become obsessed with planning her own funeral, and decided to sneak off to see a matinee showing of The Lady in the Van, starring Alan Bennett and Maggie Smith. Realizing, as I settled into my seat in the crowded theatre with my hot dog and Vitamin Water that I was very likely the youngest person in the audience by at least 15-to-20 years. A simple fact that made perfect sense within what Ken Wapnick called the 2-+-2=4 world (https://bookstore.facim.org/p-160-when-2-2-5.aspx) of the ego thought system, given the time of day and the movie’s subject matter. But did not compute from “above the battleground” of bodies (where 2 + 2 = 5) born to prove they exist but it’s not their fault. Bodies ultimately programmed by a confused, frightened mind to age, sicken, and die to save a God that knows only our prevailing “oneness joined as one” with Him from swooping down to smite them for running away from home. I know.
As I sat squeezing out another packet of mustard hoping the turmeric it contained might offset the deadly nitrates lurking in the tube steak, I could not help but note the irony of the situation I had elected to place myself in. Trying to escape from writing a story about a woman contemplating death, the sad consequences of my father-in-law’s deteriorating condition, worry over my parents’ precarious health, the problems with my husband’s business resulting from a radically changing world over time creating an ever more uncertain future, and the painful awareness of my own aging body, by viewing a movie about an elderly woman in desperate straits shown in a theatre packed with aging bodies.
Still, soon enough I lost track of the pain in my hips and shoulders and neck, my stuffy nose, and repetitive, worrisome thoughts, and found myself swept into the narrative in which a lonely playwright offers his driveway to a contentious old woman living in a van and grappling with her own demons. Who daily challenges him to see beyond the “reality” of bodies, leading him (at least momentarily) to experience our common interest in remembering our shared, invulnerable innocence and finding our way back to a Love that never divides, condemns, or leaves homeless.
But about fifteen minutes into the screening, two women (escorted by the theatre manager brandishing a bright flashlight) not at all quietly attempted to find seats; finally parking themselves on the aisle directly behind me. Settling in and chatting as if completely unaware of the movie in progress. Finally quitting after I turned around to level “the look,” a genetic gift from a long line of females on my mother’s side even more Oscar-worthy than “the sigh.” Until 10 minutes or so later, when one of the women’s phones she had failed to silence rang, and she allowed it to continue, drowning out more of Smith and Bennett’s pithy exchanges while I fumed at her rudeness, even more furious with myself for my lack of compassion for people likely my parents’ age and similarly struggling. Reminding myself I was not really upset by these continual interruptions–that now took the form of the pair conferring in the loudest whispers known to humankind about who had just called–but by my forgotten choice for the teacher of separate interests in my mind.
I wish I could say that was the end of it but I’m not going to lie to you. Not only did the phone ring again, when it did, the woman actually answered it and started talking, likewise in the loudest of whispers known to humankind, as I shook my head. Not even bothering to level the look which clearly had somehow lost its magic powers. But another dubious, physical faculty that had finally bitten the dust; succumbing at last to the gravitational force of its inevitable expiration date.
How I hated myself for hating these women who seemed so irresponsibly responsible for my current exasperated state, for once more selfishly making it all about me, even as I somehow managed to continue deeply empathizing with the characters on the screen. The homeless woman, whose life had veered out of control out of guilt. And the playwright, who did not really like or approve of the van lady who showed up one day in front of his home, but nonetheless allowed her to park in his driveway for the next 15 years out of guilt over his younger, more affluent state and failure to spend more time with his own elderly mother. And yet, through the decision to at least turn in the direction of reducing his sense of guilt; somehow opened the door to the part of our mind that saw only our shared interest in releasing the root of all guilt: the mistaken belief in separation that led to all this nonsensical suffering.
What if I could forgive myself, I thought, right now, as the woman behind me concluded her phone conversation, for blaming the unconscious guilt I feel within over believing I pushed God’s Love away and no longer deserve a home on a complete stranger? What if I could remember she feels that guilt too, that same need to answer its call and that same need of every heart to allow its release? Just like those actors on the screen, the actors filling the audience around me, and the ones waiting for me at home. Living out scripts of victimization (involving past and future loss), from east coast to west. Playing right now in theatres everywhere, with no consequences (in reality) whatsoever?
Because the truth was I could, and, for the rest of the movie, at least, regardless of recurring interruptions, somehow miraculously did. Until I got in my car to drive home and tuned into NPR for more coverage of the theatrics appearing to spontaneously result from the unexpected vacancy in the Supreme Court. That seemed to have thrown yet another wild card into the already precariously stacked deck of our collective future. I know! 🙂
“… Time is as neutral as the body is, except in terms of what you see it for. If you would keep a little space between you and your brother still, you then would want a little time in which forgiveness is withheld a little while. And this but makes the interval between the time in which forgiveness is withheld from you and given them seem dangerous, with terror justified.
Yet space between you and your brother is apparent only in the present, now, and cannot be perceived in future time. No more can it be overlooked except within the present. Future loss is not your fear. But present joining is your dread. Who can feel desolation except now? A future cause as yet has no effects. And therefore must it be that if you fear, there is a present cause. And it is this that needs correction, not a future state.” (A Course in Miracles Text, Chapter 26 VIII., paragraphs 3 and 4)
Susan Dugan’s books Extraordinary Ordinary Forgiveness, Forgiveness Offers Everything I Want, and Forgiveness: The Key to Happiness are available at RMMC and on Amazon. She writes about ACIM based on Ken Wapnick’s teachings at ForaysInForgiveness.com and teaches Tuesday nights at RMMC.