Recently a friend who was on his way to visit his octogenarian mother lamented that she was struggling with her loss of independence due to increasing cognitive difficulties. I remarked to him that I thought it would be wonderful if we rejoiced in our increasing dependence on others that often happens if we exit the physical world at a “ripe old age.” “Think of babies,” I said, “They seem to savor all the love and attention they receive when there is little that they can actually do for themselves.” This, or some other comment I made evoked some jokes about wiping an adult’s butt and how that just seemed like too much to rely on someone else to do.
Interestingly, as I now write this post (July 2, 2010), it’s the 17th anniversary of my mom’s death from breast cancer. One of the very things I did during her last months of life was to change the diapers she wore and clean her up. For me, it was truly a pleasure to serve her in this way. Heck, it was as close as I could get to paying her back for all she had done for me in the 21 years she was my parent. I’m sure at one level it was egotistically devastating for her to open herself up to being so dependent on us to help her live with the modicum of comfort she could still grasp as her body gave way to the cancer. Perhaps, however, it was also reassuring to know that love, support, and nurturing were there in abundance.
The myth of independence
I am not an independent woman. I might normally think I am — as I’m certain most of you consider yourselves to be independent — but I am woefully arrogant if I actually live with this as a guiding assumption.
- I depend on the right weather to help my garden grow or the right weather and good gardeners somewhere to grow food that I can buy from my local grocery.
- When I travel about town, I rely on a well-functioning vehicle (car or bus), toxic, yet essential gasoline (provided by the energy companies we say we loathe), properly-maintained roads, stop signs, traffic signals, and other drivers for my safe passage from one location to another. Even if I travel by foot (ah, I must be independent, right?), I may truly take my life in my own hands without sidewalks and crosswalks that I merely subsidize with taxes.
- As I type my blog posts, I do so thanks to parents and teachers who taught me to write, people that invented the Internet, blogs and other online tools, and even my local electric company that supplies the juice to fuel my laptop.
- When I live each moment, I depend on the people (and animals) around me for some of the most vital ingredients in a life well lived: love, encouragement, support, and their own dependence on me and what I have to offer. I cannot imagine trying to go through life “independent” of these gifts.
Raising an interdependent child
I hope that Baby Lavender-Mulkey will relish her/his interdependence, seeing it not as a sign of weakness or lack, but instead recognizing it as a sign of trust and abundance. Thinking we are independent is arrogant and delusional. It walls us off from community and from the wonderful give-and-take that is life (breathing is one of our best examples of this interdependence; you cannot live without both the inhale and exhale). Interdependence, I hope she/he will learn, is humbling and heartening. To know one cannot survive by oneself alone can produce an awful scare, or it can awaken deep gratitude that life is so beneficent as to care for us in myriad ways. The heartening part is remembering that we are essential to creation. Our child is here to contribute to the world in her/his own unique ways. The world wouldn’t be the same place without her/him (nor would it be the same place without any of us). I hope that we can help our child learn to embrace her/his interdependence throughout life. To me, this is a wonderful way to live no matter what our age.
“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied together into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality . . . Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on Earth until we recognize the basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.”~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.