At Hand

LuAnn lives with her husband
in their small apartment.
Recently Bob was diagnosed
with a degenerative disease
that has no cure.
He doesn’t require much physical care now,
but that time is approaching.
Changes in Bob’s mental functioning, however,
make it difficult to leave him alone
for extended periods of time.
Their daily lives have taken a different form
than they ever anticipated.
I asked LuAnn how she was dealing
with all these changes.
“It’s been hard,” she said.
“I wonder what the future will bring.
Just thinking about that
can bring me to tears.
But an idea that keeps me going
is a quotation that I keep
on our refrigerator door:
Our grand business undoubtedly is,
not to see what lies dimly at a distance,
but to do what lies clearly at hand
.”

The Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle
wrote those wise and comforting words.
Later in life he was a caregiver himself,
after his wife became an invalid
for several years before she died in 1866.
He would not have us think, certainly,
that we should stick our heads in the sand
and hide from the future.
But neither is our role to focus always and only
on where our particular situation
is unavoidably leading us.
When certain inevitabilities are beyond our control,
we will do well to pay attention
to what is within our control.
What decisions are ours to make today,
small as they might be?
What can we concentrate on
and handle right now,
just as these moments come to us?
How can we divide into manageable pieces
what seems so formidable to consider?
What can we give ourselves to here and now
that promises some satisfaction,
if not some sense of joy?
What can we find to be grateful for,
if we would take the time to look around us?
What can we be proud of,
if we’re going to be honest with the world?
What can we be at peace about,
no matter what’s standing before us?
These are no small matters at all.
They are our grand business.

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