Powerful Teachers

People come into our lives for a reason. This is especially true of our teachers. I have known several powerful teachers in my life. The best ones, in my opinion, or the most effective ones, have been extremely unpleasant. The one before me now is a ninety-five-year-old aunt. She is irascible, irritating, and has a voice that sounds like fingernails on a chalk board. I am her caretaker.

Her knees are arthritic. Crippling, really. A few days ago, I’d ordered a walker/roller to be delivered to her. She’s somewhat of a hoarder and her apartment was, shall we say, unprepared for visitors. I went over to clean. “Don’t touch that!” she yelled, when I asked her if I could remove a pile of newspapers. Her kitchen floor was grimy. “Don’t put water on my floor!” she screamed, “It’ll be wet for hours and I’ll starve!  If you make it wet and I fall and break my hip, it’ll be your fault!” When I suggested we open a window (it’s hard to breathe in there), she vowed that if I did, she would drive her car into the river. I cleaned the floor with a spray cleaner and paper towels and left the windows shut tight.

One might see this behavior as a form of dementia. The thing is, she’s sharp as a tack and clear as a bell, with a memory better than mine. I pressed on, vacuuming over more high-pitched vocalizing. I then went out to buy groceries. When I returned, she had calmed down. She apologized, said she didn’t know what came over her. I was calmer, too. I told her that I was not going to hurt her and that I was not going to take anything away from her. The fact is, I had not spoken to her as kindly as I could have when she was in screaming mode. I actually yelled back and told her to stop acting like a crazy old lady. I’m not proud of that, even though it did stop the screaming for a minute. I had never, ever spoken to her like that, and I suppose it shocked her. It shocked me, too, but, as they say, she had gotten on my last nerve. When I left she was eating the frozen yogurt and graham crackers I had bought her. She asked me to hug her and I did. And I meant it.

But that was not the end. It was the beginning. During the screaming and long after, I was besieged by anger and resentment.  The walker I chose for her came. She sent it back and ordered a different one. The warm winter coat I bought her hangs in her closet. She won’t wear it. Nothing I do pleases her unless she orders it and I obey her orders to the letter. She commands. She never says please and rarely says thank you. She has an opinion on everything and those who disagree with her are stupid.  For two nights after the screaming incident, I tossed and turned and woke up each morning exhausted and pissed. This is not my usual state. I pride myself on being calm and kind.

Really?” said the Universe, and I think it laughed.  It does not let me stay comfortable for long periods of time. Here I was again, thrust out of my “comfort zone,” suddenly and harshly, and finding myself in the clutches of yet another powerful teacher. The first thing I try to remember (when I regain my equilibrium) is that I am to be grateful for my powerful teachers. It took a while, but I finally got what it was she was trying to teach me. The only way to “get” it, I have found, is to walk around in your teacher’s moccasins for a while. What I saw, and felt, was fear. It is terrifying to be ninety-five and losing control. I could feel what it was like to be unable to walk without pain, unable to drive, to shop for my own groceries. She was screaming because she was angry and frightened.  Here’s what I had to ask: If I live to be that old, will I be that frightened and angry? Will I turn that anger on my caregiver? Or will I be able to accept what is, no matter what? When the time comes, will I remember what my teacher taught me? Will I remember to thank her? Will my last days be ones of peace and joy in those around me because of what she has shown me?

We talked on the phone tonight, as we do every night. Our conversation was, for the most part, pleasant.  Her pain medicine was working. We actually laughed once.

There is a sign on the wall above my desk. I put it there. It says, “Choose.” I was looking at it as she went on and on in my ear, and instead of wishing our conversation would come to an end as I usually do, I chose to remember that she was my teacher.  Powerful and clear. Like a mirror.


Read The Messenger: The Improbable Story of a Grieving Mother and a Spirit Guide by Helen Delaney. Find it at www.Amazon.com

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The Power of the Shadow: Part Two

I drove to the Hyatt and visited the Ladies Room. Relieved of my body’s most urgent demand, I entered the Starbucks bar, always a place of comfort for me.  As she made my latte, I told the barista all about how I couldn’t get home. I guess I was a little tearful by this time. “Oh, my,” said she, “I hope I can get home. The race runs by my road, too. Here you are,” she said, handing me my drink, “it’s on the house.” That was the first act of kindness of the evening. I didn’t notice it at the time, but my anger had begun to lose just the tiniest bit of steam. In the dining room, I told my story to the waitress. It seems as if I couldn’t stop talking about it. She was a great listener and so sympathetic and kind, I just couldn’t continue fuming. I ate my dinner, went back upstairs to the coffee shop to read the newspapers to kill time. I had reached my town at around 4:30 pm. Now, it was close to 8:00 pm. I was really tired now.  I decided I’d try one more time, and if I couldn’t get through, I’d go to the police station and demand…something. My plan wasn’t clear, but I was sure they owed me a way to my house. The fifteen minute drive from the Hyatt took about half an hour, and the first policeman I encountered (at one of those awful intersections where runners were still blocking the street) was also kind and sympathetic. She told me to go back to my street and ask the policeman there to let me through. She had been standing there in the cold for a long, long time. Still, she was patient and soft spoken and helpful. What IS it with these people? I thought. They won’t let me stay angry. And I SO wanted to stay angry.

When I reached my street, the policeman remembered me from four hours ago. I was really ready to cry this time, and I guess he saw it. “Follow me,” he said, “I’ll get you there. I’m going to walk in front of your car.” With his body between my car and a horde of runners, he slowly but surely walked me to my driveway, directing the runners to one side. I thanked him and told him my father had been a cop and how much I appreciated his help. At that, his face lit up. I’d been thinking about my father all along, and how he used to help people out of tough situations, and wishing he were there to help me. Now I think maybe he was.

The last straw, so to speak, was Missy. She was standing at the end of my driveway with a cowbell, cheering the runners. It was cold, it was dark, the wind was blowing, and there she was, shouting, “Come on, you can do it!” I have no idea how long she’d been out there. She was glad to see me and I was glad to see her. “It’s the last lap,” she said. “This is when they need cheering the most.” For the first time, I actually stopped to look at them. Tired beyond belief, these athletes who had begun at 5:00 am swimming in icy waters and cycling over a hundred miles, were almost done. They had carried on, hitting God knows how many walls and pushing through them. I had never seen such fatigue. And such courage. And here was Missy, cheering them on. My transformation was now almost complete. Anger, or the Power of the Shadow, had dissipated in the face of kindness and courage.

In a little while, as we sat at my kitchen table, Missy in her sweet way, took the last bit of resentment out of my heart. Her phone rang. The call was from the family of the athlete she had housed. “We’ve got an IRON MAN,” they shouted. Their daughter had made it. They were at a local restaurant celebrating. “Come on over,” they shouted to Missy. She was tired, but she said, “I have to go over to say hello.” My street had cleared enough by now, and Missy went out into the darkness to share their joy.

And that is how it works. Darkness cannot prevail when exposed to the light. Anger cannot last when it is faced with kindness. The Power of Love is greater than the Power of the Shadow. Every time.


The Messenger IMG_0416Read The Messenger: The Improbable Story of a Grieving Mother and a Spirit Guide by Helen Delaney. It is available at http://www.Amazon.com and at the News Center in Easton, MD.