In the last months of her life, my mother-in-law dwelled in a hospital bed in our house. It took all of her strength to get down our steep front steps, walk around the block, and get back up to the front door, but we did this together three or four times a week. As we inched down the sidewalk, she pointed out every flower, the pattern in paving stones, the various shades of green in the trees and bushes. I had never seen my neighborhood before — not like this — even though I had walked this circuit at least a thousand times with my dog. She noticed artful decorations on mailboxes, the way handrails had been constructed, the varieties of front doors, and had something to say about all of it.
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At first, I was infuriated by the slowness of our pace. I had other things to do. She would stop often, not because she was short of breath, but out of the need to examine the texture of the petals of a flower or to get a closer look at the edging around a driveway. Gradually, I surrendered. There was no way to hurry a dying woman. I began to look forward to these walks. What else would we notice that we had not seen before? I let go of the concerns bombarding my mind and opened up to just seeing what was there.
Normally, it is hard to give ourselves even fifteen minutes of the day like this. Such alertness requires putting aside our preoccupation with what will happen later, tomorrow, and the day after that. It means overcoming the nagging distraction of our many pressures and aims. My mother-in-law reminded me of the patient momentum of looking and really seeing, turning an ordinary walk into gladness for continuing to be among the living. Long after she died, I would walk the neighborhood and challenge myself to walk like that, to be alive like that.
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Reprinted from Life Gets Better by Wendy Lustbader with the permission of Tarcher/Penguin, a member of Penguin Group USA. © 2011 by Wendy Lustbader.