It was never easy visiting my stepfather in a nursing home.
Even though he had raised me from the age of 12 onwards, visiting him felt more like going to a hotel instead of seeing him at a place where the elderly and sick go to rehabilitate or die.
Each room with its bay window overlooked groomed grass and dandelions for youngsters to wish upon while the older folk visited the even older folk.
My father’s view of the dogwoods changed every spring into colors matching winter, and numerous cardinals, the Kentucky state bird, chirped in and out of those trees, singing in high pitches, that accompanied my step-father onto death. Those views of the flora and fauna made it easier to visit him, the inevitable slow by slow decline of his health as he suffered with what the other Louisville Great, Mohammed Ali, continues to suffer with: Parkinson’s disease.
We watched how his once Waltzing, Fox Trotting, BBQ-grilling able body turned foreign to his brain, his bodily functions departed, one after another, peeling away one ability after the next, while leaving his mind to witness it all.
We watched how he surrendered to one thing after another, always making the conscious choice to accept it with grace and humor, rather than with anger, as he grew more and more dependent, before becoming completely reliant upon my mother and nurses.
It’s not only the views from his window, the grace he taught me through his death, or the unconditional love I bore witness to while watching my Mom and him interact and even flirt with their eyes when his hands, speech, and body grew unresponsive — it is also the lady down the hall from my father’s room that continues to comfort and teach me.
She was 105 years old. When I was told she lived in the nursing home, I asked to visit her. I wanted to shake the hand of someone who had lived for so long. When I approached her, she was sitting in the hall, in a chair outside her room, next to the door. A small African American woman with light eyes, dressed in a furry robe and slippers.
“My name is Krista. I wanted to meet you because I’ve never known anyone as old as you.” She smiled, we shook hands and our handshake was gentle yet firm in its sincerity.
“How do you feel at 105? So many people never make it to your age.” I asked.
“Oh, I feel good. Sometimes I have a little shoulder pain, but other than that, I feel pretty good. I do miss my mother’s cooking though. She was a wonderful cook.” I smiled.
Shoulder pain? 105 years old and shoulder pain was on the top list of her body’s discomfort—and I learned that at 105 we still miss our mother’s cooking. “What’s your secret?” I asked Hattie, “To longevity.”
She took a slow breath in, almost like a tortoise, those long living animals that are said to take somewhere around 4 minutes to inhale, and 4 minutes to exhale, and as if in deep thought for that moment, she looked up and said, “I sit and watch the world go by.”
I knew I had heard from this wise crone in my father’s nursing home the secret to realizing peace, that which Zen Masters speak of, Great Seers of India, Ministers, Priests, Nuns, Spiritual Leaders from all traditions and lineages have spoken of, to be, to simply be, non-grasping, bearing witness, honoring the spirit of the present moment.
I thanked Hattie for her time. She smiled deeply and went back to watching the world go by.
The last time I visited my father before his passing he had grown to sleeping most of the time. The pain was too deep to stay awake, and before taking his last breath, our dear Crone Hattie, remained at the end of her hall. She watched people come and go, life enter and exit, rooms fill with new occupants, saw seasons pass, heard more Cardinal song, and remains living in my heart, even though I live in a state other than Kentucky. I carry with me the sentiment of Hattie, Slow by Slow, and it also was the great lesson my father learned and taught by his having Parkinson’s.
We practice living, slow by slow, mindful footsteps, synchronized with breath, grounded in the profound spirit of the present moment.
Taught by the wise ones, the Spiritual Leaders, by those sitting on the front porches of America, by those resting their elbows on the ledges of apartment windows in Prague, and by those sitting at the end of the halls in nursing homes, by our flora and fauna, they all teach us, through their actions, to live Slow by Slow.
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Assist Ed: Jade Belzberg/Ed: Sara Crolick