Six months ago, our roommates Pete and Frances stopped paying rent. They respond to requests for payment with verbal abuse. They are mad with us because we talked about moving my aged mother-in-law Rachel in and terminating our month-to-month agreement some time in the near future. We dropped that idea when they refused to move, and Rachel has since died, but they have not started paying or talked about doing so.
Pete is physically imposing, articulate, and aggressive. He’s the kind of person I tend to be scared of, even though he’s never threatened physical harm. It’s like I have been hiding in this wheelchair for six years (four years on a walker before that.) Then Pete comes along, and he doesn’t care. To him, the disability is a sign of weakness that he can exploit. I have to find other ways to defend myself.
But even before this situation developed, I have usually had an undercurrent of anxiety, especially around other people’s feelings. It’s a high priority with me not to be in people’s way, not to hurt their feelings, and especially not to make them angry.
That kind of anxiety has health effects. I’ve had prehypertension (blood pressure around 130/90) for years. And I wonder what the effect has been on my multiple sclerosis. To what extent is my disability a protective shield?
Nobody (with the exception of a few police officers) attacks a person in a wheelchair. Disability and illness are ways of avoiding conflict and gaining sympathy for me. And that’s not healthy. How can I get better if being sick is my protection?
This crisis threw that defense strategy back in my face. Most days I don’t even want to come home. Moving to evict them helps, and we will have a court order evicting them soon, but it’s a tense time. My blood pressure had gone above 150/100. I restarted an ACE inhibitor medication, but it didn’t seem to do anything.
Then Aisha saw the Bollywood video “3 Idiots,” with the story of the blind watchman. The character telling the story stresses that he models himself after the watchman. He always reminds himself that all is well and tells anyone else who will listen. It seems to help.
Out of a nearly three-hour comedy, that’s the part Aisha remembered and told me about, and I bless her for it. I thought about that story for days. I realized the watchman is a symbol of the enlightened soul, or the enlightened part of our own minds that realizes everything is, in fact, OK. He can’t see the things that aren’t well, because those things don’t matter much. They are temporary, and what is lasting is good.
We had a memorial service for Rachel last week that brought home to me that all is well. Rachel had an interesting life, knowing many famous artists, being one of the first African-American women pilots, doing some interesting work as an editor. But the last 30 years have been hard. She was disabled by Menière’s disease, and four years ago broke her hip and has been unable to care for herself. She had a lot of pain; she was lonely; she had a lot of disappointments. There were hard feelings between her and her daughter.
But at the service, with everyone taking turns telling how much Rachel had meant to them and how much they cared for her, all those hard things were gone. What was left was all good.
A few days before the service, I had started telling myself “All is well” several times every day. After the service, my blood pressure was down to 120/75, and it has stayed there since. I’ll probably be stopping the medicine soon. So for me, trusting in life was the best medicine. I’m sure exercise, meditation, medicine and healthy eating are good, too, but trust is more powerful. All is well.
If I had been a religious person, I would have known about the importance of trust long before this. It’s right there in the book of Exodus. The Israelites are in the desert without any food, and God says he will provide food every morning, a food they called manna.
Of course I knew that story, but I had forgotten that manna came with a stipulation. They were only to gather enough for that one day. Don’t save any for tomorrow.
Imagine how hard that rule would have been for the worriers. “We are lost in the desert, and you’re telling us to throw away food?” I don’t think I could have done it. Some people did try to save manna in jars, but the manna went bad overnight and was completely inedible.
I was telling this story to a neighbor woman from Pakistan who had never heard it, and she said “They should have put it in the refrigerator. That’s what I do.” But the story isn’t literally true. It’s a parable. The message is we have to trust. There will be more.
So this story is a companion piece to the blind watchman. The watchman tells us we are safe. Manna tells us there will be enough for us.
I know these beliefs aren’t true for everyone all the time, at the human level. But at the spirit level, I think they are. Maybe the world will take care of us if we let it and help it.
Spiritual and religious people often talk about abundance. They think the world is an abundant place where there is plenty for everyone, and blessings come to us from unexpected directions. That sounds so much less stressful than living in scarcity and struggle, the way I always have thought of my life. Maybe if we let go a bit, blessings come to us. Maybe they’re already there and we just don’t see them.
Blessings seem to be coming to me. In the middle of our roommate drama, which is costing thousands, we found out that Rachel’s pension fund had a death benefit, which we knew nothing about and at least pays our lawyer bills.
Trust is healing. I’m not saying cross the street without looking. I think we have to be careful, and we want to be strong. But it’s easier to be strong when we don’t fear everything that can go wrong, when we believe that whatever happens, we will be all right.
It’s All Good
I used to think, “It’s easy to talk about abundance when you have a comfortable existence and no significant dangers.” Now I realize that the harder your life is, the more crucial this way of looking at life becomes.
In the 1990s, young people in Black and Latino neighborhoods would say “It’s all good,” in response to things going wrong. I knew some guys who said that, and I wondered, “How can you say that, as hard as your life is, as wrong as what just happened is? What do you mean it’s all good? It’s not.”
But they were more spiritually enlightened than I was. They were like the blind watchman in the Indian story. “It’s all good” or “All is well” enabled them to survive and find some peace.
How can terrible things be good?
Kris Kristofferson wrote a beautiful break-up song called “For the Good Times.” He tells his partner who is leaving, “Let’s be thankful for the good times we had together.” Maybe all deaths are like that break-up. Be thankful for the goodness, all the time. Spend less time agonizing over the suffering, and it becomes easier to remember all is well.
Thinking like that doesn’t seem to change the world, or even change the physical circumstances of your own life much. Those young men saying “It’s all good,” are still unemployed and unsafe. I’m still disabled with these creepy roommates. Global warming seems to be continuing at an accelerating pace.
But seeing life as good certainly changes our experience of life. It lowered my blood pressure. It makes people less afraid, more accepting, more peaceful. And that’s all good.
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