“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” ~Dalai Lama
The ultimate test of my ability to be positive is with one of the most negative people in my life: my father. I have kept my distance from this relationship for most of my life because the reflection has been generally too much to bear. Seeing in him what I can’t bear in myself only amplified it and my inability to have anything to offer. It is not only me; he is old now and without a social network or much help.
I was surprised by the tears that filled my eyes as I hugged him good-bye before boarding the shuttle to the airport. I am always caught off guard by the tenderness I feel for him because I have spent so long away from it. These days that I have spent over the last week lifting the inches of dust off his life and sorting through decades of paperwork have been trying. He is resistant to change of all kinds and even letting go of the dirt made him even more uncooperative and difficult.
Each time I see my father who is still smoking a pack of cigarettes a day and eats only frozen food that can be microwave ready, I face the fact that this could well be my last visit with him. Much of my anger has lifted as I have given up any need of having him recognize the failings of my childhood or any trace of responsibility for it. His erroneous belief systems remain in check; perhaps even more rigidly fixed even as his body fails him.
I no longer am trying to get him to see any other way to see. Instead I look for the tender moments in the mundane where he and I talked about the passage of time, so visible in my own children’s development. It was a satisfying moment when he broke down and agreed to a new mattress purchase that I recommended and a truly satisfying victory when he agreed to have a woman I found to come in and help.
I could see another side of this positivity quest in my dealings with him. I was capable of helping him out and feeling compassion for the many ways he has limited his life by his beliefs and behaviors. I finally found a place where I could offer some help but not need to fix him or his life. There were moments when it came close to crashing, when I started to clean his bathroom and was overcome by the mold and mildew that has never been cleaned.
Positivity in moments like these are boundaries. I did what I could and left the rest to the new help. I was compassionate with myself first. When I couldn’t listen anymore to his negativity, I swam in the ocean with my kids. Ironically, the waters were shark infested, or so the beach signs said. Still we braved the 82 degree Atlantic and didn’t see a single one.