Friday, October 14, 2016

when there's so little space you can hardly breathe

I’ve been thinking today about an old fable I heard many years ago. It begins like this:

A poor man lived with his wife and six children in a very small one-room house. They were always getting in each other's way and there was so little space they could hardly breathe!

Finally the man could stand it no more. He talked to his wife and asked her what to do. "Go see the rabbi," she told him, and after arguing a while, he went.

And so the poor man told the rabbi how miserable things were at home with him, his wife, and the six children all eating and living and sleeping in one room. The poor man told the rabbi, "We're even starting to yell and fight with each other. Life couldn't be worse."

The rabbi thought very deeply about the poor man's problem. Then he said, "Do exactly as I tell you and things will get better. Do you promise?"

"I promise," the poor man said.

The rabbi then asked the poor man a strange question. "Do you own any animals?"

"Yes," he said. "I have one cow, one goat, and some chickens."

"Good," the rabbi said. "When you get home, take all the animals into your house to live with you."

The poor man was astonished to hear this advice from the rabbi, but he had promised to do exactly what the rabbi said. So he went home and took all the farm animals into the tiny one-room house. 

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It’s been a demanding, crazy, awe-inspiring, exhausting, joy-filled, draining, blessed summer. Yes, I am aware that it’s mid-October, but I just now feel like I’m shifting seasons!

Like the farmer in the tale, I felt like more and more “animals” kept coming into my “home,” which already felt very full.

But before you begin feeling sorry for me, let me emphasize that the vast majority of these new “animals” are unequivocal blessings: new jobs, new grandbabies, family gatherings, book signings and presentations…

Somewhere in there, however, my body started hurting—and the pain I felt demanded that I pay attention to my body and its needs.

All of a sudden I felt forced to add even more “animals” to my “home” chaos. Doctor visits, medical tests, acupuncture, physical therapy… I’ve been ready to try anything that could possibly help.

It was only last week that I finally acknowledged the one piece I’ve been missing—my attitude, my perspective.

It was thanks to something the physical therapist said, or rather, what I was able to hear. I’ve been walking around the summer months acting like there’s something for me to fix.

Yet the reality is not that anything new has “happened” to my neck. I have advanced degenerative disc disease. It is part of my condition, and it is not going to get fixed. It will never be well.

So what my body is demanding is actually rather simple. I need to slow down. Rest. Take time to meditate. Pray. Listen to what my body needs… not in a big picture of life, as much as on a day-to-day basis.

The challenge is to notice, and not wait until the pain is screaming at me to pay attention!

A visible sign that I haven’t been doing this very well is this blog. I can’t believe it, but, Day by day with María has turned into (almost) Month by month with María!

Writing for me is a spiritual endeavor. And paraphrasing what Flannery O’Connor once said, one of the blessings of this blog is that it helps me know what I’m thinking… and what I’m feeling… and most importantly, pay attention to what God is saying to me in the specifics of my life, on this day, at this moment.

The shift in my attitude is as basic as moving from me-centered to God-centered.

It’s the difference between reading God/is/nowhere and God/is/now/here.

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oh, and ps. As you may have guessed, there’s more to the poor man’s fable! Here you go:

The next day the poor man ran back to see the rabbi. "What have you done to me, Rabbi?" he cried. "It's awful. I did what you told me and the animals are all over the house! Rabbi, help me!

The rabbi listened and said calmly, "Now go home and take the chickens back outside.

The poor man did as the rabbi said, but hurried back again the next day. "The chickens are gone, but Rabbi, the goat!" he moaned. "The goat is smashing up all the furniture and eating everything in sight!"

The good rabbi said, "Go home and remove the goat and may God bless you." 

So the poor man went home and took the goat outside. But he ran back again to see the rabbi, crying and wailing. "What a nightmare you have brought to my house, Rabbi! With the cow it's like living in a stable! Can human beings live with an animal like this?

The rabbi said sweetly, "My friend, you are right. May God bless you. Go home now and take the cow out of your house." And the poor man went quickly home and took the cow out of the house. 

The next day he came running back to the rabbi again. "O Rabbi," he said with a big smile on his face, "we have such a good life now. The animals are all out of the house. The house is so quiet and we've got room to spare! What a joy!