The Covid-19 pandemic has quietly seeped an undercurrent of violence into our lives. The young children who are isolated in their rooms because a playmate’s father has tested positive. The youth who feel like no one is listening and no future awaits them. The small business owners who are left only with shuddered doors and back rent to pay.
And then there is Roberto (not his real name). Roberto and I met a year ago, and I have fond memories of our chatting away at a conference. Roberto is in his early 60s, a quiet and gentle Italian homeopathic doctor who has healed many people with herbal medicine, massage, and loving care. I was particularly delighted at the time because he knew about psychosynthesis.
After the conference, Roberto and my husband spent the day together wandering the mountains of the Marche and philosophizing about intergroup dynamics. Roberto insisted that the group we were trying to create not just hold meetings, but ground itself within our surroundings. He felt that to truly create fellowship, we needed to participate in activities around the seasons – walking, eating, dancing, and celebrating.
Not long after that, Roberto went to a dance and broke a little bone in his foot. His foot was put into a cast and he was given medicine to prevent blood clots. But being a naturalist doctor, Roberto made the decision to not take this prescription drug.
When he went to have the cast removed, the blood clot that had formed in his foot immediately went to his heart and he had a severe stroke. He was in a coma for weeks and the medical staff thought he might die. But Roberto survived, coming out of his coma no longer able to talk, walk, or sit up. Slowly, with the help of rehabilitation therapy, he was soon able to walk with support and even hold a conversation.
But then Covid-19 happened and his treatment stopped. Completely. Stopped. He was sedated and left in bed for 2-1/2 months. His sister was not allowed to visit. No one was allowed to visit. Roberto soon became confused and unable to understand what was happening.
He was finally brought home and now needs full-time care. He is losing his eyesight, his hands are locked in a distorted position, he is captive in a wheelchair. After we visited with him, his sister insisted we take some of his books. Roberto will never read again. But leafing through his extensive library felt like a kind of rape. We hardly know Roberto.
I and my husband have been struggling to understand what happened. How could someone who has healed so many others end up like this? Is it because of Covid-19 and the fear that seized the medical staff? Is it because he refused to take the blood thinning medicine? When and how did things go so terribly wrong?
Some would say this terrible fate is his karma. But I do not believe in karma. I do believe in mystery, and Roberto’s story seems truly mysterious. However, there remains the fact that we make so many small, seemingly insignificant choices everyday of our lives. And some of these choices can lead to grace, others to complete catastrophe.
I am reminded of this story about a monk seeking to become a Zen teacher:
After ten years of apprenticeship, a monk felt that he had achieved the rank of Zen teacher. One rainy day, he went to visit the famous master Nan-in. When he walked in, the master greeted him with a question.
“Did you leave your wooden clogs and umbrella on the porch?”
“Yes,” the monk replied. After all, it was only proper to leave them outside!
“Tell me,” the master continued. “Did you place your umbrella to the left of your shoes, or to the right?”
The monk did not know the answer and realized that he had not yet attained full awareness. So he became Nan-in’s apprentice and studied under him for ten more years.
Not knowing where he placed his umbrella changed the monk’s life trajectory for the next ten years – from being a confirmed master to being a humble student. Like the monk, perhaps Roberto’s fate was tied to his inner awareness precisely at certain critical moments.
For Roberto, what appeared as small, insignificant choices actually activated profound consequences. I can only wonder… How did he decide to go to the dance that fateful night? What made him dance that last dance? What was deeply motivating him? And was he aware of where he was placing his foot when the little bone broke that would one day lead him to blindness and a wheelchair?
This week take some time to bring awareness to the smallest acts during your day. You don’t have to spend all day in this heightened state of awareness, but try questioning yourself at certain points of transition. Why am I choosing to go to the supermarket at this moment? Is this the right time for me to get into an automobile and drive off somewhere? What does my soul really want or need from me in the here-and-now?
Ask… Pause… Listen… Wait.
Feel deep inside you for the answer.
And when it’s raining, take note where you place your umbrella. It might change your life.