By Rose Kramer
The window of worldly function keeps inching downward as Parkinson's Disease follows its habitual path. "Progressing" is what it is called in the literature. Initially I often find myself hard put to apply the term "progress" to the slow but steady movement down a slippery slope. Like a refugee fleeing a war zone, I jettison one thing after another—driving, traveling, shopping, running, walking, attending classes. With each letting go, the wrench becomes more manageable. I know the pattern of shock, grief, jealousy, bargaining, hoping, raging, projecting blame, accepting shame, and finally a peace that is strangely better than O.K., an emptiness that makes space for new wonders. Instead of "getting over" this intense living, the process repeats itself, albeit with less force, from declining point to declining point. I have a physician with whom I can share my experiences. We tread the minefields together, advancing, retreating, always recognizing that it is all changing all the time, honoring the cosmic movement, respecting the earthquakes that are beyond our reach to prevent or correct.
Earlier this month I had been saying my painful goodbyes to what I felt was my last Spring, my last apple blossoms, and my pet and personal center—the raspberry bushes. During the last five years, I have carefully made my way to the raspberry bushes to put out my hand and pick the jewel-like fruit as I hang on to the wire that holds the bushes together. Little by little, I fold back each branch, hang on with one hand, ferret out the juicy dark ones, and watch with satisfaction as they accumulate in my collecting basket slung under my arm. Each time I go out to gather the raspberries, I gain confidence. I carry the crown jewels into the house—sometimes holding onto the side of the house, tired, often shuffling, yet feeling complete for the day. Sharing them with people I love is wonderful.
The raspberries on the thorny bushes are my spiritual guide. "Keep harvesting one more day, one more spring," I tell myself. I think of all the people who have helped prepare me and inspired me for the brief yet profound journey from first to last raspberry bush. I am surrounded by loving people, who hardly realize how their friendship makes life sweet, even at its most demeaning and difficult times. I quote a gift that appeared in a letter from a friend: "I am struck by the meaning of following awareness. Wherever my awareness needs to go, I am willing to follow. A deep trust has put down deep roots—I am less and less attached to 'happiness' and 'buoyancy.' The dark night's journey invests us with the ability to see in the dark."
Rose Kramer is the co-translator of The Dhammapada (available from Parallax Press) and editor of Dolphin's Voice, where this article first appeared. She lives in Santa Rosa, California.