A few weeks ago I flew down to Phoenix to spend time with my mother and stepfather. My mother is seventy-nine and my stepfather Al is ninety-two. My mom takes care of pretty much everything-- the meals, the house, the bills, the finances, the travel arrangements, communication with family and care givers. She's got a ton of energy and she's very connected. She rivals my fifteen-year-old daughter for time on her cell phone. She's always in touch with someone or researching something or getting directions on her phone.
My stepfather, on the other hand, was too old to take on a smart phone when the technology burst onto the scene. At ninety-two Al is in good shape. Though he no longer drives, he still plays bridge once or twice a week and is pretty mentally lucid. During my week visiting them I was aware of how their little universe functioned. Mom buzzed about cooking, cleaning, typing away on her laptop or cell phone, going to the gym, taking care of her houseguests (me and my daughter Lucia). While mom was always up when I woke (early), Al slept later. He rose and dressed slowly and then took his time walking with the help of his walker or cane from the end of the house where the bedroom was to the other end of the house where he spent most of his time, in his study. Mom spurred Al along to eat, get dressed, take his meds, and Al offered Mom the invitation to slow down and be at rest. Though I could tell it was challenging for her at times, I noticed that Mom sat longer at the table at meals, patiently waited for Al to make his way down the hall, allotted more time to get into and out of the car.
Al would eat his breakfast of yogurt and granola that my mom made and set in front of him, watch some news, and tinker at his desk. Sometimes he fell asleep for five or ten minutes sitting on the couch or in his chair at the dining room table. One afternoon after lunch on the patio, Lucia and my mom went out the garage to finish an art project they were working on. I said I'd clean up but Al struck up a conversation and I ended up sitting at the patio table with him for over an hour. I had the itch to get up and go into the house to do the dishes so that my mother wouldn't have to do them when she came back in, but something told me not to.
Al and I sat there, mostly in quiet, looking over the landscape of Saguaros, Chollas and Ocotillos. The multiple bird feeders on the patio hosted cardinals, cactus wren, Gambel's quail and curved-billed thrashers. Every once in a while I would ask Al what kind of bird was feeding or Al would ask me a question, something about what I was doing in my life these days or our plans for the rest of the day. A few times he fell asleep. But as quietly as he fell asleep he woke up again and resumed our conversation. After an hour or so Mom came in, walking her efficient, determined walk, to check on us. It was a natural moment to transition-- me to the dishes and Al back to his study. But the stillness and silence I felt from sitting with Al stayed with me.
I've thought about that time with Mom and Al a lot-- how this complex system of energies balances their lives. Mom is the Yang to Al's Yin and vice versa. The symbiosis of their energies makes their life as a couple possible. It's a reminder to me that we all need both. Maybe our partner or our kids or our co-worker offers some Yin to our Yang. Maybe we need a little Yang to fire things up and we find it through another person, animal or place. The point is that we all need both the Yin and the Yang energies to be in balance. And though we might weigh more heavily in one area, both the Yin and Yang energies live within each of us.
Being more Yang myself, I appreciated the experience of sitting with Al, this quiet force of stillness. And I appreciated that Mom kept his quiet world spinning with her gale force energy. My time sitting with Al that week helped me connect with my Yin energy a little bit. Al, at ninety-two, embodies the authentic grace that comes from slowing down and the end of a very long life. I feel grateful to have had that special, enlightening time with him. I hope the feeling stays with me for a while.