“This is where the sacred resides, in performing an unpretentious task mindfully.”
— Karenna Wright
Anti-Heroin Chic published one of my short memoirs. It’s a true story, of course, but for this piece I’ve changed Alan’s name to Avery. Read it here or below. If you’d like, please leave a comment. I’d love to know what you think of it.
Tying Avery’s Shoes
by Karenna Wright
I’m waiting for Avery to get dressed. It’s the first day of autumn, and we’re taking a day trip to the mountains. He finally appears, calmly proclaims he can’t tie his shoes, would I do it for him? He’s had difficulty dressing himself lately. This morning he was able to pull on his socks and pants, button his shirt, and pull a sweater vest over his head, all by himself.
Avery and I have been married for three years. I’m 57 years old, and he’s 65. He has Alzheimer’s disease. He was diagnosed two years ago, nine months after we recited our wedding vows. It’s the second marriage for both of us, but this bond between us is fierce. With wet eyes, envious friends have told us this kind of love is rare, that we live in a dreamy fairy tale. We think it’s enchanting and perfect.
This Alzheimer’s disease, the thief, takes its time fracturing our union. No one and nothing but this wretched disorder pulls us asunder. Since the diagnosis, there’s been a significant, progressive decline in Avery’s cognitive functions, his balance, and motor skills. His thought processes, reasoning, memory, attention, language, and problem-solving capabilities come and go, mostly go. It wasn’t long after his diagnosis that he needed frequent help and some supervision to do most of what he could do independently before.
Today we’ll drive to our favorite mountain town, and we’ll promenade along the riverwalk, for this is the extent of Avery’s dwindling capabilities. No more off-trail or dirt path hiking. We stick to boardwalks and paved pedestrian routes. We’ll walk
Riverwalk, Estes Park, CO. Photo: estes-park.com
upriver holding hands the entire time, like we always do, staggering toward the future. We’ll take in the crisp, dry air and watch the wind rustle through the pine and aspen trees. We’ll visit the stationery store where we’ll buy journals that have fancy leather covers and pages edged in gilt. We’ll carry them close to our hearts while we amble downriver to our favorite coffee shop. Then we’ll sit at a black wrought iron bistro table on the outdoor patio, listen to the moving water, watch passersby as we sip chai and munch hazelnut biscotti. We’ll transfer the pain of losing each other onto the lined acid-free pages of our new books, trusting the journals and the rushing river to catch our words and emotions and assimilate them into our souls, somehow making sense of it.
At dinnertime, we’ll saunter upriver to our favorite Italian restaurant where we’ll have a glass of Chianti and a bowl of bow-tie pasta with basil pesto. As dusk comes, we’ll follow the river down to a wooden bench under a stand of aspen trees, the perfect vantage point to watch the deer who come down from the forested hills for an evening snack, unfazed by our presence on the other side of the water.
Once more tonight we’ll inhale the fresh pine scent in the air and let the wetness of the river permeate through to our bones. We’ll eagerly succumb to the enchantment of this place as we watch the water negotiate the ancient granite rocks that have been part of the river for thousands of years, and we’ll wonder how many more it’ll take before the march of the river erodes them to dust. Then finally we’ll drive home, snaking down the mountains and foothills, on the lookout for feeding elk and perhaps a herd of mountain goats. We’ll smell the heady wood smoke rising from nearby chimneys. At home, we’ll speak softly of life’s mysteries and how lucky we are to have found each other. Then we’ll fall asleep in each other’s arms, dreaming the same dream of floating downriver, wishing it could always be this sweet for us, wishing the thief had knocked on someone else’s door.
Avery wakes me from my thoughts, plants a warm kiss on my cheek, adding a dash of playful feistiness he sometimes mixes into our private moments. He pulls the cherry wood Queen Anne dining chair from the table and plunks himself down, his arms resting on its arms. Two months ago, when it became apparent Avery would soon lose his ability to tie his shoes, I thought he’d be better off wearing shoes that don’t need tying, perhaps a pair of loafers. He disagreed, saying he preferred I tie his shoes, but I wonder if it’s really his way of protecting himself against the sorrow and anguish of his decline.
Avery points to his unlaced, polished black Rockports, bringing me back into the present. I drop to my knees, touching his leg to steady myself. He wears dark gray corduroys and his favorite charcoal gray sweater vest over a light cobalt blue shirt. This is my favorite outfit on him, and the sight of him stirs my love. I bend over his feet, lift the ends of the laces on his left shoe and cross them to begin the tie. It’s an ordinary, simple action. Or so I think.
As I begin the tie, I’m dizzy and nearly lose consciousness as I slip into a different knowing. In an instant, a brilliant flash of white light penetrates my skin and moves smoothly into every cell of my body. It takes over, moving my hands and fingers. It’s not me tying my sweetheart’s shoelaces–it’s this mysterious force, full of light and love and generosity. I’m merely its catalyst. I imagine I’ll swell to accommodate it, but I don’t. Rather, it seeks release.
Such an honor to tie Avery’s shoes.
As I form each bow and finish off each tie, I perceive the sacredness in this ordinary act. Avery’s shoelaces are the medium and I am the conductor. Love and its infinite nature streams through me, again and again, and I am in bliss. This is where the sacred resides, in performing an unpretentious task mindfully.
Such an honor to tie Avery’s shoes.
The love in me expands as I move to my husband’s right foot. This love is the love that moves the universe. It’s the love at the heart of each one of us, and that love is simply all there is. When our fears and worries are stripped away, it’s love and only love that remains. When Avery cannot tie his shoes, it’s love that asks me to do it for him, and it’s love that complies.
As Avery and I peel back the layers of our angst about the future, our anxiety merges with the larger universal love of creation, and it multiples infinitely. Although it began meekly with an uninspiring task, it’s the force that encourages us to live fully in the mundane. It’s the force that loves and moves Avery and me and each of us, the force that loves shoelaces and the rhythm that marks our days.
I finish tying my husband’s shoes, rise from my place at his feet, and this experience of divine love sinks deeper yet within me. It will continue to live and breathe through me, as it does through each of us, as simply and intricately as my fingers tied my beloved’s shoes.
And suddenly I understand that the day I do not tie Avery’s shoes is the day he will not need them. It’s the day he’ll leave his shoes behind, the day he’ll leave this world. I wipe a tear from my eye, grateful that I am the one to tie Avery’s shoes.
We gather our things and load into the car, back out of the garage, and head toward the mountains. Today we have a river to cross.