An excerpt from Notes from the Bottom of the Box: The Search for Identity by a Modern-Day Renaissance Woman.
The other day I was holding stillness with a horse, a rescue horse with a difficult past. Although the mare now lives in a safe and nurturing environment, she still seems unsure of whether to come or to go—life feels uncertain. I stood with her while she pawed the ground and shifted her shoulders. She had little trust in me. Three times, however, in my short stay and grounded state, I saw the fear ease in her eyes. Three times, if only for a moment, she let go of her defenses and found relief. It was beautiful to witness: a moment in which she trusted herself enough to listen deeply—a skill lost through the carelessness of others—to quiet her defenses and come to know I was safe.
My father is a relatively able and energetic nonagenarian. Although he’s been widowed three times, overcome two surgeries in his late eighties and has severe hearing loss, he joins an exercise class most mornings and rides a stationary bike twice a day. His humour still bubbles with insider jokes and his memory is, at times, better than mine. The Viking blood runs true within his veins. Sometimes, however, his mind fails to keep up with his active body.
"let’s go to lunch while there, we’ll go to your favourite restaurant, the IHOP." Now you have to know, I detest the IHOP. No, that is not quite right, I don’t hate it, I am just suspicious of any restaurant that coats everything on the menu with a healthy dose of sugar and a sauce that may actually glow in the dark. The bill of fare, let alone the restrooms, makes my skin crawl. But he likes it, especially the waffles coated with something akin to strawberries and whip cream. He agreed to go.
With his walker carefully tucked away in the corner, the waitress asked for our order. "Nothing," he said. "What?" I almost yelled, every cell screaming: you are the only reason we are here, don’t tell me you’re not hungry now! "I am confused," I said, irritation just below the surface, "you wanted to come here." I was so caught up in my own knee jerk reactions that I couldn’t read his own confusion. Thankfully, the waitress could. The IHOP is a favourite of the aged, at least in this town, she’d seen this before. "No hurry," she said, "it’s okay, I’ll be back."
Alone again, I looked at my father. I wanted so much to be mad at him, tell him that I was only doing this for him. That I would rather be anywhere but there. Instead, I looked into his eyes. It was then when I saw it. For a brief moment in time, I was sitting beside a small boy, alone and confused in a bewildering environment. His own robust self shrunken in big people’s clothes, trying to make himself invisible in a world that seemed too big, too unknown; too scary.
I wish I could say that I immediately comforted him or made him feel safe but my own fears were still too big; my own needs to unwieldy to be packed into a box of empathy. "You wanted to come here, didn’t you? You like it here. And its lunch time." He just looked at me. "I can’t hear a thing," he said.
The waitress came back and I made a decision. I ordered his favourite meal and sat quiet while he slowly came back to himself. While he ate his meal, with the appreciation I was used to, he said with not a little shame: "I got confused, it’s so busy in here." "It’s okay," I replied, "it is noisy here."
The other day I was holding stillness with a horse,
a rescue horse with a difficult past.
a rescue horse with a difficult past.
This is not the first time this has happened with my father, nor will it be the last. Each time, my dad's unexpected vulnerability incites some anachronistic fear within me, a childhood hangover that refuses to acknowledge reality. But each time it happens, a part of me grows older, perhaps even wiser. I see it is time to not only let go of my own defences but time that I give my own fears and uncertainties some well-needed safety. Maybe then, just maybe, I can hold stillness within myself and, in that space, do the same for him.
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