This afternoon, I had a routine conversation with a potential client. I prepared my notes and readied to call, knowing I'd done this many times before. Still, I felt fear and doubt. My relationship with fear and doubt is long-term and sometimes unpredictable. I took a few deep breaths and made the call, recognizing fear but not letting it control my listening or speaking, nor my ability to stay present. The call went well: kindred spirits talking and details decided. A new opportunity to practice and teach mindfulness.
Just now, as I sliced tomatoes and peppers, I had an insight: my fear was not about the phone call; it reflected my circumstances two years ago on this day. September 23 is when my dad, sisters, and I made decisions about mom's end-of-life care. We had to decide, without consulting her, whether to extend her life via medical machines or to allow her to die. The news stunned us in its suddenness yet we all agreed, through tender, broken hearts, to let her go. We held a compassionate vigil, working closely with hospice nurses to ensure she didn't suffer. It was both deeply painful and vitally important.
This—much bigger and heartbreaking—decision is where my fear and doubt arose. The phone call was just a phone call. When I'm open and aware, I notice my internal weather. If a storm brews over a routine action, I need to look closer. On this particular day, I needed to cry and grieve. To put my hand on my heart, and bear witness to my pain. To remind myself that we made the best decision we could under terrible circumstances. I have no regrets about those last hours with mom, yet fear and doubt arose because that's what emotions do. Underneath is sadness. And deeper underneath is trust in my capacity to stay with everything.
I don't know why this anniversary resonated so deeply with me. Grief is unpredictable, just as life is unpredictable. I wonder: who else is walking around today—or any day—with a tender, vulnerable heart? This helps widen my circle of compassion, for myself and others. Life is difficult, wondrous, heartbreaking, and beautiful. How do we stay wholehearted and awake? I think we do it together, as community. Sharing what's real and true, and listening with kindness; hitting the pause button and connecting with each other; bearing collective witness to joy and sorrow and everything in between.