It’s been a long time since I posted, due to the major stroke my husband, Bernie Glassman, suffered 9 days ago. Yesterday I felt I turned a new page, going from emergency footing to a more even keel, and this blog helps me do that.
Updates on Bernie are posted on Caring Bridge. This blog is for me, my feelings, my thoughts, and the learning that I have assimilated in only a short time. You can sit and retreat for decades; a stroke is a plunge that will annihilate everything you think you know. You’re a baby, you were just born. God is showing you things you’ve never seen before, and all you have to do is look. Don’t shut your eyes, don’t tell Her what to do, don’t say it’s unfair, just look. Look clearly at the face of someone you love, and who is realizing slowly that right now he can’t move his right side, can’t toilet himself, and that his terrific mind has changed. Look deeply into his eyes, don’t avert your gaze, God is showing you something. You have the great privilege of being deeply in the state of not-knowing unless you mess it up, unless you shut your ears, start Googling, argue with the terrific professionals taking care of him, drink whiskey, eat junk food, second-guess the universe.
In the middle of all this, I know we’re surrounded by a great beneficence, that someone had moved a curtain aside to show us more and more of the universe and we can only be grateful for these glimpses. There are no problems here, just new and contradictory panoramas: the strain of a leg to move up even as it can’t; a shoulder shrug where one goes up and the other stays down. We’ve lived such active lives, and now is our chance to appreciate—even cry over—small, sweet things: the bend of the right knee after many tries, drinking regular water without choking, and finally—miracle of miracles—coffee!
We’ve traveled a lot, but this is the strangest country we’ve ever visited and I feel like a tourist: Can you aim the teaspoon with your left hand towards the left side of your lips rather than the right? Standard tourist wear is workout clothes from Gap sales, easy pull-on and off clothes. There’s a new language to learn: “Start again and speak slower. Again. Again.”
And it has its own practice. For 50 years Bernie has taught the John-and-Mary practice. John is the left arm, Mary is the right. When they think they’re separate they don’t take care of one another or the one body; when they know they’re one body, they take care of it. The practice continues: Can you feel Mary, Bernie? Is she one or is she two? Is she the one body even when you can’t feel her? He laughs, as if to say, what does touch or sensation have to do with anything? There’s something so much bigger right at hand, here and now, calling and calling and calling.
I’m reminded of being sick myself in 1987, when I lay in the Intensive Care ward at St. Joseph’s in Yonkers after suffering encephalitic shock from an allergy to post-surgery antibiotics. Sensei Bernie Tetsugen came to visit. He looked down at me and listened with great care as I babbled a story of deep meaning, what it felt like being close to death, how the world had changed, feeling the strong flow of blood in and out of my body, an exciting experience that could have killed me but instead had the potential to change my life. He looked quietly and patiently, not saying anything, not saying what’s so obvious even in these emotional and even traumatizing times: It’s just your opinion, Eve, just your opinion.