I ascended the narrow staircase holding a plastic cup filled about three quarters of the way with cold iced tea. I warmly complimented the room’s view of our town’s lake while wiping the condensation that had already formed on its exterior off before placing it in his outstretched hand.
It was my second visit to his place. A man I had started seeing but would only see for a few times as I was a “fill in” for another worker that needed the time off. I have recently taken on another part time job. For this one I visit people who live at home but need extra assistance with everyday chores that they are no longer able to do. Also, some just need good company; someone to talk to, someone to listen to them.
He drank deep then put it down with a thud on the windowsill that lined the wall on his left side. Eagerly taking up his brush again he dipped it in the small pile of acrylic paint that rested on a sheet of cardboard in front of him. Paint he had squeezed out of a tube that now found its home in a haphhazard pile of similar looking tubes all bedecked with caked layers of various colored hues. His arms appeared bruised and I looked twice with concern before realizing that it was just a dark layer of greyish brown paint that had come to adorn his upper limbs like garish sleeves.
He was a painter, though he had done many thing in his lifetime up until now. Along his hallways and in every room his paintings ornamented the walls. Sailboats and fighter jets. Portraits of John Wayne and other celebrities stared back at me as I would raise my head to meet their airy glances upon rising after unplugging the vaccum cleaner. Probably his most favorite thing to paint was scenes from the shore. Sailboats, harbors and piers. I could almost hear the flutter of the flags atop a ship in one of his paintings he had managed to make it come to life so vividly and masterfully. Some of his paintings had sold and were for sale for thousands of dollars.
I looked down at the painting he now worked on. A crude outline of an airplane with little details dully met my gaze. He looked up at me and our eyes met.
“I don’t paint like I used to. But I still love it. And will keep doing it no matter what. Until I can’t pick up my brush any longer. My eyes, you see, they have a degenerative disease. I’ve already had cataract surgery and they fixed that. But nobody can fix my eyesight from slowly going away.”.
I tried to change the subject by complimenting on a painting that was behind him of an attractive blonde girl smiling radiantly.
“That’s my daughter. She died a year ago of cancer. She fought hard for four long years but she just couldn’t keep up with it. Went through chemo and everything.”
Shaking his head sadly he went on.
"My wife died 36 years ago and now my daughter. You just never know when someone will leave you. When they will be taken. Everything is fine and normal one day and it’s like they are just plucked right out of your life the next. You just aren’t ever the same after that. Never the same.”
My heart cringed and all the faces of those I have lost came flooding forward in my consciousness. My paternal Grandmother I lost in middle school. My high school friend Erin who died of cancer. Another high school friend Katie who died unexpectedly from an undetected congenital heart defect. And yet another high school friend Brendan who, after his car had broken down on the side of the road and he walked on the shoulder to get help, got struck by a drunk driver and died shortly after being rushed to the hospital. My good friend Jim who was like a brother to me who died of a drug overdose in college. My grandmother who died last May. What to speak of all the close animal companions I have lost along the way. What he said was so true and reminded me of the impermanence of life and how it is so important to savor each moment with those we love and to make the most of our time here.
Later that night, too exhausted to read, I thought I’d peruse some videos of Radhanath Swami’s lectures and came across a short one that made that afternoon with my client immediately come to mind.
The video is of a story Radhanath Swami tells in his book, The Journey Home. Conveniently, I recognized that I had taken down a quote from the story and had it already on my quotes page devoted to quotes from his book. This is the quote I have that is the main theme of the video, one of which is undoubtedly very beneficial to reflect on. I encourage you to watch the video in its entirety as well.
“The unsuspecting fish, who knew nothing but life in the river, went about its routine like any other day, but in an instant was ripped out of its reality to meet with death. Like that fish, we routinely live our lives hardly aware that, at the very least expected moment, the yellow-eyed hawk of fate in the form of crises, tragedy, or even death, may wrench us out of our comfortable environment. We regularly hear of it in the news or see it around us but rarely take seriously that it could happen to us. Perhaps the lesson here is to guard against complacency and give higher priority to our spiritual needs. If the fish swam deeper, the hawk would not be able to reach it. Similarly, if we go deeper into our connection to God, we will find an inner reality so deep and so satisfying that it lifts the consciousness to a place where we could deal with the effects of unforeseeable fate with a stable, detached mind.”
~ Radhanath Swami, The Journey Home, p. 291-92
Nothing in this material world lasts. I try to teach my children that as I find them getting unnecessarily distressed when even the smallest of their trinkets break. Not only do inanimate objects rust and decay, but so do our bodies and with them our abilities, just like my client’s ability to paint. Our eyesight eventually gets less keen and our bodies age as well as those of our loved ones. Impermanence is a sad fact of living in this material world but our impression of it doesn’t necessarily have to end leaving us with a lingering sadness. For our misery while experiencing the impermanent can be a catalyst in prompting us to dig deeper spiritually and seek a peace and love that is everlasting.
It's been awhile since I've last posted. I plan on posting hopefully at least a couple of times a month here. A lot of things are happening in my personal life. For years I have stayed home with my children and now find myself back to work having not one, but two jobs! I also have become more spiritually focused and now am chanting my mantra (the mahamantra) 16 rounds a day, which also takes up quite a bit of my time. I hope, though, when I do post, my readers will enjoy what I continue to write. And please feel free to leave your reflections in the comments section. Thank you!