Tears and Laughter

I paddled slowly to the middle of the lake, loosely following the path of the three herons who had passed overhead moments earlier. At the water’s surface, turtle heads emerged and disappeared without rhythm or sound. Periodic percussive slaps interrupted the silence as fish leapt for insects. Standing on the paddle board, surrounded by the company of the morning lake, I drifted in and out of thoughts and thoughtlessness, at one with the other beings of the lake. My paddling became a prayer of thanks as I fell into gratitude for my place in this world. Turning to head towards home, my prayer anchored itself to both past and future.

My husband, Thomas, sat on the pier, settled in his own version of solitary morning prayer. But, to my sight, he did not seem to be alone. My great-grandmother, who died years before I was born, was with him on the pier. My dad, grandfather, and uncle, more recently gone from this life, were there too. Dozens of others who I did not recognize were there. Certainly there were more people than would fit on the pier if they were in physical form. On the bank behind them, my grandmother (who died 9 years ago) sat on a bench surrounded by flowers. She was overcome with emotion, reveling in love of nature and family, exclaiming the wonder of it all with her generous tears and laughter. She always marveled at the miracle of our lives. Now I understand her awe. With past, present and future blending together, we are left speechless, without the words to explain the knowing and the not-knowing that accompany our experience of reality. Tears and laughter sum up the rich fullness of it all but I can’t resist the urge to try to understand in words.

Last week, I had the opportunity to begin to share Without a Map: A Caregiver’s Journey through the Wilderness of Heart and Mind at presentations and book events. On Thursday, I offered the audience at Inn Along the Way a glimpse of what I had learned from accompanying Dad during his decline with dementia. I shared a vision of a world in which we all step in close with one another in reciprocal connection and compassion. I invited them to envision the generations of people who had come before us, both giving and receiving care, and encouraged them to lean in to the generous teaching of those generations. As each one of us steps in to the symbiotic relationships in our own lives, we can see ourselves as part of a single interconnected whole.

On Saturday, I met Bob Atkinson, author of A Story for Our Time: From Duality to Interconnectedness to Oneness. In his book, Atkinson describes these personal actions of connectivity as examples of the evolution of human consciousness, an evolution that is both inevitable and supported by our intentional actions. Atkinson asks, “wouldn’t our greatest act in this world be to express love, compassion, caring, and charity in all things we do? Understanding the path to our own evolution means awakening to our own humanity, to the specialness that is ours only.”

In that light, the call to connection that I offered on Thursday was also a call to participate actively in a personal and collective turn toward fulfilling our potential. Paddling back to the pier where my husband, my ancestors and my descendants are waiting, I am reminded that forever is here now. It is also yesterday and yesterday’s yesterday — and tomorrow and tomorrow’s tomorrow. In gratitude and connection, I glide across the water, brimming with love and wonder. I am the shy turtle, boisterous fish and graceful herons all at once. I am speechless, but my heart is light and I am laughing through my tears.