Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Whole World is Medicine

Our house in spring, star magnolia in bloom
I'll start with the story.  I was in the Internet Cafe (TV room) at Manor Care, where Tom's father is now resident, fixing myself a cup of coffee.  The little refrigerator was empty, but there were packets of that creamer mysteriously made from corn syrup.  Well, it was still sort of cream, and would soften the gastric hit of the coffee.  As I tore open the package, looking at it for collage possibilities, I thought of Yunmen's koan, which I learned as, "The whole world is medicine. What is the illness?"  (There is a different version by John Tarrant here.)

Students of Zen just finished that thought, I imagine.  It is a famous statement that is considered a koan.  The one everybody knows is "What is the sound of one hand clapping?"  (I know the answer to that one. :)  [by the way, smileys are addictive, especially useful in texting, which is economical]) 

later -
This morning's NY Times has an article on the discovery of the microbe that gave us streptomyacin, how a lowly lab assistant was finally given credit.  I loved this quote, though, from his journals: the microbes were found in "leaf compost, straw compost and stable manure" on a farm near their lab. I said, "The whole world is medicine."  Tom told me then that his BP medicine is based on snake venom, which kills you by reducing your BP to zero.

But that's not the deepest point of the koan, which goes like this:
Unmen said, "The whole world is medicine.  What is the illness?"
My response is, the illness is not perceiving the world. The illness is living in and grasping at your delusions.

And here's my example.  Tom and I are respectivily 63 and 69 years old, but sort of older, really; he has  post-polio syndrome, and I am, you all know, a sort of musculo-skeletal wreck, and on meds for kidney transplant, BP, arrythmia.....the usual.  Body wearing out, sooner than some people's.

His parents are 90 and 93.  His father is in nursing care, went there two months ago septic with untreated infections and long ago mentally disabled by stroke.  His mother is now living with brother Dave and his wife, but constantly trying to go back to her house.  She is bent with arthritis and can barely walk with a cane, but wants to drive.  Tom and his siblings and grandson are trying to straighten out a really horrible mess of their estate, much of which has disappeared into the hands of scam artists while they clung to their idea of staying in their own "home," the house they bought fifty years ago and have not maintained.

What is the illness?  Clinging to the delusion of never growing "old."  Clinging to the delusion that she can be independent all her life, it's only a matter of refusing to see reality.  In there was her own susceptibility to flattery, which she would never admit to, which has led her to meet strangers who call her on the phone and ask her to meet them in a parking lot and give them money.  And by the way, your home is not that house you live in; it's the world.  And your body, and you don't get to keep that.

As for us - we don't want to ever put my daughter in this position.  We spent this morning talking with a Realtor about what we can expect to realize on this house.  We are not going to move into a condo either; it's straight to retirement home for us, because realistically, we love our house, but we want to relax and enjoy whatever time we have left.  Realistically, that might be a year or ten years or a day. 

The Realtor wore flip-flops.  You have to love that.


  1. Dalai Grandma,

    I love this idea of you and your husband discussing selling the house and "retiring." Lord of the Rings Rivendale (?) comes to mind.

    Flip-flops. Ha!

  2. Downsizing brings freedom, but find a better a better agent.

    1. Actually, Darla is so well-groomed and professional that the flip-flops tickled me. Part of her friendly persona, maybe. And she's partnered with an agent who's a long-time church friend, so we're happy with the team.

  3. Dear Grandma:
    I don't know you, I've just come across your blog, but above you mentioned "...not going to move into a condo either; it's straight to retirement home for us,...".
    Please, please, please be careful. There are some many places that do, at best, a mediocre job of taking care of their clients. I've seen these facilties through my work. If you chose a senior complex with their own apartments and perhaps, with medical staff on hand, that might be one thing.
    Anything else is just problematic.
    I'm just a couple of months short of 50 and my mother is 68. She is NEVER going into a retirement home.

    Sorry, I know I'm not being skillful, but I worry about all the mommas out there. Including ones that I've just discovered their blog.
    Metta from Pineville, LA

    1. Hi Bill, I don't find anything unskillful about what you wrote. Thank you for the warning. We are relaxing a little from the sense of urgency we were feeling, and do intend to investigate places carefully. I've found recently, visiting nursing homes and hospices, that they differ greatly. (But even in the "poorer" places, so many aides and nurses are so kind to the patients, it's lovely to see.)