Sunday, March 30, 2014

Each life that touches ours for good: My story is not my own

Last night was the first General Women's Session of LDS General Conference, and my family and I got a bit of a surprise when we heard a very familiar story being told by the Young Women General President, Sister Oscarson. As transcribed by my sister Laura:

"I recently heard a wonderful story about a little girl named Sarah whose mother had the opportunity to help another women in her ward named Brenda who had Multiple Sclerosis. Sarah loved to go with her mother to help Brenda. She would put lotion on Brenda's hands and massage her fingers and arms because they were often in pain. She then learned to gently stretch Brenda's arms over her head to exercise her muscles. Sarah brushed Brenda's hair and visited with her while her mother took care of her other needs. Sarah learned the importance and joy of serving another person and came to understand that even a child can make a big difference in someone's life."

The reason this story sounded so familiar was that Brenda was my mother. Sarah is a neighbor girl, part of a large family of mostly boys, whose mom was one of the many, many women who came over to assist my mom during her long years of physical limitation.

I was almost taken aback at first for a few reasons. First, out of sheer surprise. Both surprise at hearing the story and surprise because I had no idea that Sarah was involved like that. Also, I'd thought about my mom's illness as our family's story, our family's experience, for so long that it almost surprised me to realize that someone else could claim it as part of their story, too.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that every experience, no matter how personal, becomes part of the story and life experience of those around us. In the case of my mom, I sheepishly admit that it's quite clear that her story was not limited to her family. Sarah and her mom were not the exception in my parents' ward- there was a full rota of women who came on a daily basis to spend time with her, to assist her with meals and getting up and down from naps, and, like Sister Oscarson talked about, rubbing her limbs to keep blood flowing and do what they could to alleviate the pain. These women gave their time and their skills and their love, giving my siblings and I the freedom to go to school, and live our young, developing lives. Of course it became their story.

Then I thought about my mom's funeral. The chapel was packed with current and old ward members, friends, and relatives- all people who had been touched in some way by my mother's life. And didn't that make her story belong to them as well in some way? Don't we all belong to each other as we influence each other for good or ill, as we strengthen and encourage and learn, and sometimes just plain endure- there is no such thing as an isolated story. My story is not my own- it belongs to the people who have lifted me, supported me, challenged me, and taught me. And just as I claim my mother's story, I also claim the stories of my father, my siblings, my grandparents, my roommates. Their choices and their experiences impact me. Their stories are not their own.

And I guess that's my first thought as I prepare for General Conference this weekend- I hope that as I sit in the choir loft on Saturday and look across the sea of faces in front of me, I will remember that we all belong to each other. It is a powerful and humbling thought.

Friday, March 7, 2014

It's not fair . . . to compare

I just reread my last post. Which was almost 11 months ago. Let's just say it's been a very intense year. And maybe sometime I'll post some stories, because they may be useful to other people who are going through challenging things. Maybe when the stories aren't quite so close to home.
For tonight, it's a general, personal reflection. In reading my post from last April, I can see how I was at the beginning of a long health journey that isn't over yet. I wrote of feeling tired and lacking energy. Well, the bad news is that the fatigue hasn't gotten better you. It's worse. So much worse. I have good days and even good weeks, but I also have weeks when I wonder at what point I need to talk to someone at work about cutting my hours back. I go to choir rehearsal and feel exhausted at the thought of doing that for seventeen more years. Some days, there's no energy to be friendly even, I have to save all the energy for myself and my functioning. I can't send it on other people.
And this is hard. It's partly hard because there are no answers yet. I have almost a book of lab results telling me that I am very healthy. I have four hours' worth of MRI scan telling me my brain and spine have no abnormalities. I eat a very clean diet. And yet I feel this way. (I will add that I am continuing to work with a couple of doctors on additional possibilities. I am even a little hopeful right now that I may have some new test results back on Monday that may tell me something). But it's cruddy. It's not who I want to be and it's not who I am. But it's my reality right now.
So sometimes little things can put me over the edge. Sometimes all it takes is a Facebook post from a friend who is elated that they were able to run X miles, bike x miles, lift X amount of weights, or any other kind of challenge. I get mad. I cry. Because it's not fair. It's not fair that I want to do those things so much, and I can't.
and then I cry more, because images of other people come into my mind. People like my mom, who have even less freedom and autonomy than I do. Because when we get down to it, I'm still very mobile. I can still take care of myself. I can still do things and live an okay life. And then I get more mad, because I'm upset at what I can't do, but so many people can do even less than I.
And you know the only way that it doesn't drive me crazy, this train of thought? It's coming around to realize tha I'm right- it's not fair. But what's not fair is the comparison. What's not fair is ranking people in any way like this. And the ranking can go either way- it's possible to be active and energetic and think that makes you better than other people, and it's also possible to be very limited or handicapped and look down on others because they don't know how hard life can be.
And so I work on having a quiet heart. On knowing that no matter where I'm at, no matter where those around me are at, it's not fair to compare. It's never fair and it's never productive.
It's been a good but challenging week. And coming to this realization may be one of the best parts of it. Isn't it interesting how we learn lessons over and over? And yet it's not even fair to compare myself now to myself in the past and what I knew then, because the Maria today is a different person than the Maria then. And isn't it better to re-learn than to never have known at all?