There is a section in one of the final chapters of Sky Above Clouds that keeps replaying in my head. I hear my late husband Gene saying, “I am rushing.”
At the time, Gene was going through chemotherapy for metastatic prostate cancer which had been lying dormant for the prior 13 years, or perhaps better said, had been “in check” with his hormone therapy. This particular morning, he was seated at the kitchen table, a mere hour before a meeting he had. His head was bent low. He was quiet. He had eaten and was now sitting still, digesting maybe, thinking maybe, moving in his mind maybe. I wrote:
I can see Gene sitting at the table…..I am running around at a different pace, getting Eliana’s breakfast, lunch, taking her to carpool to get to school on time. When I return and sit across him with my coffee, it is almost 8:10 in the morning. I know he has to leave at 9 for a meeting.
“Don’t you have an appointment this morning?”
“Yes,” he answers, “I am rushing.” Silence. No movement.
It took me a very long time to understand what was going on for him. For such a long time, I have heard, “I am rushing” in my mind. He was rushing by trying to move at some recognizable speed that we do when we don’t have to pay attention to our health. He was rushing, in his head, but his body was not moving. I was all motion. I really was rushing.
Now, I am rushing at the internal speed that he had. Illness takes time away from you that life fills with its time that moves in a cycle of speed that takes up time. We are all rushing somewhere.
Rushing seems to be about speed. But is it? There is the juxtaposition of what we see on the outside and what is going on in the inside; the movement over time of our understanding of another person’s experience; the various ways in which we grow into our own existential understanding; the ways in which we learn how we age into illness or into health; the ways in which we come to see how we move.
Is rushing about speed or is it about thought? Is it about our health or our loss? Is the experience coming at us or moving away from us? Are we going somewhere, and if so where are we going? And frankly, will it matter where and when we are going there? Will I ever be able to sit at my kitchen table and not be going in my mind or in my body where he was going? I must now question, do we feel the slow motion of time or speed or thought when we ourselves are in it? Is slow motion a form of consciousness or a rhythm of time?
I have just returned from spending time with a dear friend and her husband. They are living in what I have come to call “Illness Time” not a period of time spent ill, but time itself defined by illness. He has Parkinson's disease, and has been living with it for the past seven years. Like Gene, he is not only a doctor now, but also a patient. Like Gene, he is very much still himself - a wonderful, kind, bright man. In his stillness, I can see both his fading and his ongoing presence. He can do everything he needs to do, just slower, safer, less rushed. And when or if he needs to rush, everything takes not only more time, but it seems to take a circuitous path as well. So rushing can’t only be about speed because it doesn't move things any faster than his slow shuffle walks. Rushing is moving towards the goal, doing it somehow as to make it there, and thus, being there. Rushing is not time; rushing is the life force of Self, reminding us over and over again: I am here.
For Gene, getting up off the kitchen chair was no longer an unexamined physical move. Everything in his mind-body had to coordinate through the forces of will, effort and action, rushing as a plan of how to go about making such a move. Unconscious effort is a gift of health; in illness time, rushing is how we will ourselves into physical action.
“I am rushing” is a thought, a speed, and an action. For me, it has become a mantra of love and memory.