Remember how I was still riding the high from my trip to Europe in my last post? Well it’s gone now. Now it’s back to boredom, sadness, anxiety, and loneliness. Interspersed with tennis and dinner with friends, thank goodness. But still. It was nice to be free from random anxiety attacks. From my drill sergeant making up chores for me to do to make my existence seem worthwhile. From figuring out what to do on days when I was not going to have any human interaction.
I guess that’s one of the disadvantages of experiencing something so wonderful: its extraordinariness is only possible when juxtaposed next to the ordinariness of your every day life.
This weekend I had no evening plans so I decided to watch “Still Alice.” I don’t know what I was thinking. I knew it was going to be depressing. Maybe my inner critic made me watch it as a way to shame me out of my sadness: At least you don’t have Early Onset Alzheimer’s, so stop moping around! And I have to say, it was effective in putting my pain in perspective.
The whole time I watched, I was bracing myself for the agony of watching Alice’s cognitive decline. And it was painful, but it was also beautiful, in a way. I was moved by how courageous and mindful Alice was about the process of losing her memory. How determined she was to stay connected to the person she was and to the people she loved.
There is a scene where Alice gives a speech at an Alzheimer’s conference about her personal experience with the disease. She tells the audience that even though she may forget this experience tomorrow, she treasures it in this moment, because speaking in front of them allows her to feel like her old ambitious self: an expert in linguistics who was fascinated with communication.
My other favorite scene is when Alice explains to her daughter why she wears a butterfly necklace. As a child she was distraught when she found out that butterflies had such a short life. Her mother reassured her that although their lives are short, butterflies have a beautiful life.
Alice’s mother and sister died in a car accident. Alice also has a short but beautiful life. She was intelligent and successful, with a great job and a loving family. In one moment, we can be on top of the world, celebrating how great our lives are. In the next moment, everything can change.
It made me think about how all of the wonderful things in our lives are gifts, and no gift lasts forever. And we don’t know when the expiration date is. The most we can do is to fully enjoy them and appreciate them while we have them.
At some level, I think I hoped that practicing mindfulness would somehow protect me from pain, like some kind of psychological talisman. But it doesn’t. Saying good-bye to vacations, to memories, and to aspects of my identity that I hold dear still terrifies me, despite my attempts to blog, meditate, and be in the moment.
But I practice mindfulness anyway, because being fully present allows me to extract all of the joy out of every experience that I possibly can. I guess that’s the most that any of us can hope for.