Today in Qigong class, our teacher explained the eighth treasure of the form, the white crane series. This series of exercises, she said, stimulated the kidneys which is the center for health and longevity and for which the white crane is a symbol. Though mythically it is said the white crane lives for one thousand years, in reality, in captivity cranes live to 60 and in the wild to almost 90, a generous lifespan that closely approximates humans.
This morning before class, JB had some music on while we were eating breakfast–music created by a very gifted and tender friend who died way too early in the AIDS epidemic. JB and I exchanged no words about the music, but it struck a deep and melancholic place in my soul as I finished the last grains and put on my gym shoes for class.
Yesterday, MH asked if I would visit Gregory at the center for Alzheimer patients and help feed him lunch. Gregory was first diagnosed with Alzheimers at age 55 (ten years ago) and was put into a care facility just over two months ago. Though the care there is very good, at meal times there are not enough staff to help everyone eat. As I lifted forkfuls of food to Gregory’s mouth, he would, once or twice, carry an invisible fork beneath mine toward his mouth. When I asked him if he wanted more, he playfully growled and then he spilled his juice. He thoughtfully and patiently arranged both the bread on his dinner plate and the dish of sugar wafers four or five times before he was finished eating.
The last time I visited Gregory, there was a man named Eddie, 99 years old, at his table who was feisty, mean, ornery, very talkative, but a very endearing character. This visit he had just returned from the hospital after having had a stroke. He was drooling, eyes shut and head leaning down, very pale. Remembering his spunky energy, I felt the same heart tugs as in the last scenes of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
As her Parkinson’s progresses, my own mother inches her way toward death’s door. I called her this afternoon to let her know I would be driving in to see her this week. She told me that the doctors found a mass on her twin sister’s lung. They would be doing a biopsy this Wednesday.
After Qigong class today I met up with a friend and we talked about another friend’s calcification of his heart valve and his very complicated response to the prognosis. We talked about our own losses of sharpness, efficiency, and acumen in our own capacities.
While the white crane washes its wing feathers, turns its head and twists its body to look up, while she sharpens her beak, strengthens her vital force, stretches her legs behind and forward, while she guards the plum flower and limbers her wings (parts one and two), the white crane also reminds us to live with a vibrant and soaring spirit while we still move toward and learn to gratefully embrace the inevitability of death.