If you made a chute in the shape of a parabola, and you took a shiny marble, and placed it gently into the mouth of one end, you would watch it roll fast and cross over the axis of symmetry. Then, it would fight against gravity, and complete it’s roll upward until inevitably, gravity would overtake the shiny marble, causing it to roll back. Again, it would roll over the axis of symmetry, and back.
Each time, the journey would be shorter. Each time, the marble would slow its roll. Each time you would be saddled with the anticipation of wonder, “When will it stop?” Then, eventually, the marble would stop. This is when some of us rest, satisfied. Done.
Or, we pick up the marble, and place it again into the mouth of the chute. Maybe on the other side this time, I know that is what I would do. Symmetry is nice.
This September, my father almost died. He was found in his truck, unconscious, septic and hyperglycemic. He was handled with care, for which I am grateful. He was delivered to the hospital, sent to the ICU, and stabilized.
My mom and sister drove overnight to be with him. I sat in my living room, with my husband beside me, my dog at my feet, and my children asleep upstairs, and felt the vibration of this news. I love my father.
I joined them in California, where he was recovering, and then we brought him back to Oregon. We have met many medical specialists, and there is a grave new reality. We will continue to talk about how he needs to work less, how he needs to rest, how he needs to heal.
How he can’t let diabetes kill him. How he will be fighting cancer now. Yes, on top of the other concerns, there is cancer.
He is young. He has grandchildren. He has children. He has a wife. He has a tiny dog.
But here’s the thing–his work is his symmetry. His work gives him order. He loves his work. There will be a break, of course, but in the end, it is his art.
Somewhere in the midst of this crisis, he will have to evaluate where his axis of symmetry lies. I would prefer, of course, that he not come to rest, like that shiny marble, by dying alone and cold in his work truck somewhere in California. Again, here’s the thing–my preference doesn’t matter here.
It is not my axis of symmetry. It is not my parabola. It is not my life. I love my father. He is funny, and a little wild, but his “guys,” the men he takes care of at work, have never known a more dedicated safety professional. That is his world outside the home, and it gives him shape.
So here, for the sake of my heart opening around all this, I will share that when I was a nurse, way back in my twenties, I watched families infantilize their aging parents. I promised I would not do that to my parents, when morbidity started to slow their roll. I did not like how it felt, and to be honest, it never worked.
No one finds their axis of symmetry by embracing the one assigned to them by someone outside of their mind, body, or spirit. No one changes their behavior because they are told to. And definitively, no one lives a life that is true and right, by being infantilized.
My dad has decisions to make. He has to roll back and forth in his own chute. He has to find what is right for him, and if the rest of us don’t sync up with that, then we’d better get over it, because here we are, and the leaves are starting to fall.
Though we can certainly waste all our time being fussy over him, angry toward him, or wanting him to “behave,” I think it makes more sense to get out of his way. My hope is that he can find the balance that is right for him, that he will know he is loved, and that he will understand we are here, watching him roll, with sweet anticipation.