"Be willing to be a beginner every single morning." -- Meister Eckhart
The first click is at 7:30 a.m. Someone is singing.
If you wanna get to heaven
Get out of this world
You're the voyager
You're the voyager ...
It's Groundhog Day.
Every day is just the same but totally different.
I reach over Vickie, hit the snooze button, pull the cover up to her neck, cuddle up and stroke her hair. Before I know it, my mouth falls open and my brain is numb again.
You're the voyager ...
I stumble out of bed and turn off the radio. "Stay. I'll go first."
I sit on the edge of the bed with my arms on my knees and my head down like a boxer after a tough round.
It started around 2 a.m. when the ceiling light in the hallway blinked on, sensing that someone was wandering around like Lady Macbeth. A kiddie gate near the stairs prevents Vickie from falling down, so I don't rush. "You're sleepwalking, sweetie." I put my arm around her and lead her to the bathroom, then tuck her back in. We spoon and I caress her face, lightly over the eyebrow, circling the hollow near her temple, smoothing her hair. She's asleep in less than a minute. It takes me longer. There'll be two more voyages before the morning's first click. Alzheimer's is like that.
But now I'm up. The rest of my day depends on how I begin it. I open the blinds to let in the light. The sky is overcast. "Good morning, sunshine," I call over. "It's a beautiful day."
"Mm hmm," she answers.
I sit next to the night table that has an open copy of the new Jack Reacher thriller and a Miracles magazine. This is a good time for most people to meditate but I never meditate because I can't keep the chattering monkey in my brain still for two seconds. So I just sit and watch my thoughts pass by without judging them and then the thought comes that life is all about getting up in the morning and meeting needs as they appear, without fuss, moment by moment. Maybe that's what love is, too.
I was going to write a book back in the 1970s about living in the present moment but didn't because I only had about three good double-spaced pages in me. Plus, if you think about it, the only real moment we can focus on is the one that happens next. The present one is always in the past.
So I sit by Vickie and sing to her in a whispery voice, "Good morning, sunshine, the earth says hello ..."
"G' morning, Sooshi," she says.
"It's time to start our day." I pull down the cover as she pulls herself up. We both sit on the side of the bed. "My feet," she says, "where are my feet?"
"Over here." I reach for her fluffy pink slippers and put them on her like Cinderella. Her feet are still pretty at 68. Mine are disgusting, like a dinosaur's.
Next Vickie looks in the bathroom mirror and says, "My hair!" She looks like an electrocuted chicken. I tell her, "It's OK. The aliens came last night. They parked their ship in the backyard and abducted you. They took samples of your hair because it's so beautiful they want to grow it on their planet."
This is a routine we go through every morning. It's always the same but always different because each time we react to everything like it's happening for the first time, which for Vickie it is. I heard the actress Aubrey Plaza improvising with Jon Stewart the other night, and when he complimented her, she said, "All of life is improv, isn't it?"
We go through our familiar liturgy of hygiene and getting dressed, Vickie first. It takes about as long as an early morning Mass by a priest and an altar boy who want to get it right even if nobody's watching. We hug before we go downstairs, and I say, "You done good, sweetie," and she says, "Thank you," two words she has always remembered, and I remember Meister Eckhart's saying, "If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough."
We go down to the kitchen where I slice bananas for our corn flakes, put a straw in Vickie's chocolate Boost, and take a swig from a carton of OJ. I've brought down my Miracles magazine to read while we eat.
"Listen to this, sweetie. It's kids on what love means. Rebecca, age 8: 'When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too.' "
Vickie is pointing past me, through the sliding glass doors, onto the patio. I know what she's looking at. Our Lady of the Garden, the little sculpture of our Blessed Mother that sits in the garden Vickie tended for decades before she could no longer.
"Yes, she's beautiful. She's looking after your garden and after us."
Vickie smiles. Nothing makes me smile more.
I read the last entry to myself. Terri, age 4: "Love is what makes you smile when you're tired."
[Michael Leach shepherds Soul Seeing for NCR and books for Orbis Books.]