Thursday, July 05, 2012

The Next Right Thing

In the months since my mother's death, I've found myself inexplicably caught in moments that I can only describe as panic.  I will be doing whatever it is that I'm doing and suddenly I will be overwhelmed with a sense of anxiety and fear and heart-pounding loss. Now I've learned to control myself (most of the time) and  mitigate the feelings (most of the time) by doing the next right thing.

Now sometimes that means breathing more slowly, or. getting a drink of water.  It can mean moving around to change my physical being, journaling if possible, meditating and, lots of the time, praying.

What I do depends a great deal on where I am at the moment. Obviously, if I'm in the car, I can't whip out my journal. 

If it's midnight I'm probably not going to stroll around the block.

If I'm working, doing the next right thing means doing whatever task is at hand (while maybe getting a drink of water and walking about for a minute or two.) 

Sometimes, though, the only next right  thing that I can do is just leave where ever I am and whatever I am doing until the waves of anxiety pass.

Which leads me to today.  I work in a friend's law office a few hours a day helping create manuals. Today I was just finishing a set of labels when I felt panic creep in and slip behind my chair.  So I drank my water, completed the print job and set things up for tomorrow, believing that was the next right thing for me to do since it was nearly time for me to leave anyway.

After a quick trip to the bathroom, I was ready to run to my car! However, as I was leaving my friend asked me if I would go sit with a young woman who was having chest pain and wait with her for the EMTs to arrive.  All of a sudden, I had a new next right thing to do.

I went into the break room where the woman was seated in a chair, her hand over her heart. I took her other hand and began talking to her, telling her what I knew I would want to hear if I were in that place:  that the medics were on their way, that it would be okay.  I took her pulse and it was strong and steady so I told her that her heart was beating fine and to just breathe calmly. 

Then I asked her if she was spiritual and when she said she was, I asked if I could say a prayer for her. Her eyes welled up and she nodded, so I prayed that the great ineffable mystery of love that is with us at all times would surround us and then said, "In the words of Julian of Norwich, 'All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.'"  I had no sooner finished the phrase than the EMTs arrived.

I let go of her hand and slipped quietly out the door.

I couldn't help but reflect on the irony of it all.  I was dancing on the edge of my own panic when I was suddenly called to help someone else.  My own anxiety didn't subside as I was sitting with her, but I knew what I would want to hear and what I would want someone to do for me.  And I knew that this was the next right thing for me to do.

I've often wondered why I've had these waves of panic over the past few months.  As I was driving home, I heard in the soft stillness of my being: "So you could know."

Know what it was like to feel  surges of fear.
Know what it was like to be terror-stricken and, at the same time, be utterly mortified to be terror-stricken in public.
Know what it was like to not understand what your body is doing.
Know what it was like to want help but not want to make a scene.

To know what the next right thing is.


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