When someone you love is suffering, you feel that you should be able to do something about it. You want to make them better, make it stop, make everything all right again. You do all the little things, whatever is in your power to do, but you can’t take away their pain or change what’s happening to them. The only thing you can really hope to change is how you feel.
Recently I was driving along and crying at the same time. (I know this doesn’t sound like a story about calm, but bear with me.) I wanted to cry hard, I wanted to sit in my car and scream, but I was on a busy highway and I didn’t want to have an accident on top of everything else. “Just wait,” I told myself. I knew I would soon be driving on a quiet country road with no-one else around. “Wait till then,” I said, “then you can scream as much as you need to.” In the meantime I concentrated on breathing. I said it out loud: “Breathe in. Breathe out.” And that’s what I did. Breath and the road, they were my focus.
By the time I turned off the highway I didn’t need to scream. The valley rolled itself out before me in exquisite detail. Lush green paddocks stretched either side of the road, so different from the blond, dry grass at home. Black and white cows with fat bellies stood around under trees or grazed quietly. An amphitheatre of rock reared up at the back of the valley and I drove up it, around tight bends, past giant tree ferns and tall, tall gums reaching up into the sky.
Near the top of the escarpment wisps of cloud hung low and aimless while the trees leaned towards each other across the road as if about to speak. I heard bellbirds and whipbirds and felt the cool air. Then the road cut through the eerily ancient national park. I looked for lyrebirds and wombats and wouldn’t have been surprised to see hobbits.
It was a gift, a beautiful drive that lifted the heart and soothed the spirit. Nothing had changed. No-one was better. No suffering was relieved. But calm had returned, and with it a kind of acceptance. Breathe in, breathe out, look around, keep going. That’s all, really, and it’s enough.