My mother suffered a fall this New Year’s eve and fractured her hip bone. Luckily the joints were not affected.
While she was lying on her hospital bed after her successful surgery she was feeling low and depressed. I think she was blaming herself for not being alert enough to avoid the accident. There was not much I could do to console her. I don’t have much experience of consoling people and not having had a wife and family I have limited experience of dealing with upset women.
My mother is a very strong person and generally it is I who go to her for consolation. But luckily my elder sister was there and she was able to manage the situation.
What I could have told my mother was the immortal words of Omar Khayyam in the Rubaiyat:-
The Moving Finger writes and having writ moves on,
And not all thy piety or wit
Can lure it back to cancel half a line.
Nor all thy tears wash a word out of it.
But this was not a time for impressing anyone with philosophy. My mother needed someone to listen to her and offer sympathy and have her feel accepted and loved. That is what my sister was able to do.
For anyone who is interested the surgery was successful and since there was no damage to any of the joints there will most likely be a full recovery. My mother will be up and about and walking in about 5 or 6 days and should be able to go back to her usual routine within a couple of months. I asked whether she will be able to move around outside the house and it seems that she should be able to do so. That is good because it is not much fun being confined indoors and being unable to move around.
So what lessons can we take from Omar Khayyam and the above incident (other than the literal meaning of the words which are self-explanatory)?
First is that there is a time and a place for philosophy and when someone is looking for consolation it is of no use (and even harmful) to tell them that they should not be feeling upset. All the philosophy in the world cannot stop us from getting upset when things go badly as they will. Life is suffering – according to Buddhism – and since nobody likes to suffer it is inevitable that we should feel wretched from time to time.
A corollary is that no philosophy says that it is wrong to feel upset. Admit and deal with your disturbed feelings when they arise. In fact Buddhist philosophy and meditation practices will help you in this very important task. Read the books of Thich Nhat Hanh for more on this subject.
Second – the meaning of the above verse itself. This is another way of saying that there is no point in crying over spilt milk. What is done is done – by accident or otherwise – and now it is up to us to deal with the situation.
Lastly do your thinking when you are feeling calm and balanced. Get your disturbed feelings out of the way (with a minimum of fuss) using if you like Buddhist mindfulness techniques. And when you are feeling stable again, think and learn from your experiences.
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