This was the one month that I thought I knew exactly what I would be writing about. My pilgrimage to the Buddhist sites in India with two amazing Buddhist teachers was scheduled for the month of January. I was then going to Plum Village where I would digest the trip and have some very wise insights to share with all of you.
Well, I ended up with a very different pilgrimage. Just before Christmas, one of my young adult daughters, who was scheduled to go to India with me, had some minor surgery. The surgeon assured us that, given her age and state of health, we would be fine to travel to India on January 4th. The surgery went great, and she was up and about the next day. Unfortunately, two days later, her recovery took a wrong turn, and she ended up with very high fevers and chills for two weeks. In addition, a large wound opened up, requiring constant care. By January, it was clear that neither one of us would be traveling anywhere in the near future.
So instead of going to India, I spent those three weeks nursing my very sick daughter — icing her down when her fever got too high, taking her to daily doctor visits, changing the wound dressing and the sheets, and doing the laundry. And I slowly realized that I was indeed on a pilgrimage. A pilgrimage is a journey to a sacred place in a foreign land, and in this case the fragility of my daughter’s life was the sacred place. The foreign land was my complete presence and care.
I say that this was a foreign land because I have never been one to sacrifice my own needs to take care of others. In my growing-up home, independence was valued above all else, so when we were sick, we were left alone with daytime television and, if we had a stomach bug, we were also given a large bowl. And that’s how I raised my own kids. When they were sick, they could stay home from school (if they had proof such as a fever or a runny nose) but they didn’t get any special consideration. Wouldn’t want them to think being sick was something to aspire to, right? And besides, I always had places I needed to go — work, school, or volunteer activities that had to be completed.
What was different about this was that, since I was supposed to be away, my calendar for the month of January was completely and entirely empty. I literally had nothing to do except take care of my daughter. Once I realized that the India trip was not going to happen, I gave up and let go. If this was what I was supposed to be doing, then I would do it completely. Each morning, often after several night-time wakings, I got up and made a green smoothie to go with my daughter’s breakfast of cereal, apple, and vitamins, and I brought it to her in bed. We then planned outings for the day, to keep her active and positive, starting with simple car trips to Bethesda, and culminating in walking several miles each day and taking a day trip to New York. In between outings we rested, watched old movies, visited the doctor, and monitored the healing of her body and her wound.