“Focus on The Things You CAN Do”
If you’ve been reading these blogs regularly, you probably know that my husband Pete suffered a massive stroke on in 2010. Because of miraculous support, doctors, surgeries, my will for him to live, and his will to recover, he inched his way back to what I would categorize as a full recovery. He didn’t think of it that way, and he knew best, but it was a pretty damn amazing recovery.
While I was focused on pushing him to use his right hand to feed himself, our friend Cynthia helped him focus on his handwriting. I tried to keep him from dragging his right foot, and he focused on re-learning how to play the guitar in an entirely new way.
As Pete struggled and became increasingly frustrated, a good friend of ours who writes for Premier Guitar Magazine shared with him the story of famed jazz guitarist, Pat Martino, who also suffered a massive and debilitating stroke. Our friend connected Pat and Pete over the phone, and Pat was kind enough to share some very encouraging words and useful information. The most salient piece of advice that Pat gave– the thing that really helped Pete turn a corner– was to “focus on the things that you CAN do.” Up until then, Pete had been agonizing over the skills he had lost, on what his hands couldn’t do. After Pat’s advice, he began to focus on the skills he still had and built upon that. He soon began making massive strides and ultimately regained 99.9% of his ability.
Pete often reminded himself of Pat’s advice. He had to as he suffered heart failure right about the time he’d gotten his expertise back up to snuff. Again, using the adage, “Focus on what you can do,” he made yet another comeback.
So now, in my deepest moments of despair, as I try to figure out how to live my life as a solo act, I have begun to hear Pete telling me to “focus on the things I CAN do.”
As I look around our home and property, I see so many things that need to be fixed and improved upon. So many things that Pete would have taken care of already–so many things that were on his to do list when he died. They eat away at me. I can be paralyzed into inactivity because of grief or because of the expense of certain things or simply by my fear of not knowing how to do so many of the things he handled effortlessly. The more I procrastinate, the more I beat myself up for it. Pete wouldn’t want things to get rundown around the house. If there was one thing I learned from him, and there was a lot more than one, it was to take care of things before they become a problem. Keep up with the cars and their maintenance, keep up with the yard, the house, the bills, all of it.
So, I’ve been chipping away at things, but still all I see is what hasn’t been done. Then, the other day when I was outside in the garden, no doubt berating myself over the weeding that hadn’t been done, I thought of what Pete would tell himself. “Focus on the things you CAN do.” So I did, and I made a list of the things I had done.
1. I had the magnificent oak tree that stands in front of our house, and that was dropping limbs on the driveway, beautifully trimmed.
2. I had the gutters cleaned out and the flood lights changed.
3. Along with help from Judith our exchange student, we cleaned up all the decks and porches.
4. I’ve kept the cars well-maintained.
I started to feel a little bit better–a little bit ahead of the curve instead of behind.
I began to ponder all the challenges of my work and the lengthy list of goals I have not yet reached, but then I thought of the things I have accomplished. I made a long list of things I did in 2016—I really brainstormed and was amazed at what I came up with. Not to say I’m amazing by any stretch, but a lot of the things I’d done just went unnoticed by me until they were on a piece of paper in front of me. Frankly, I was pleased at my ability to accomplish anything based on how shitty I had felt. It was just enough nudge to get me looking forward to the next set of undertakings.
Finally, I considered my withdrawal from so many people over the last year–I can give myself a good beating over that too. I determined that I wasn’t as withdrawn as I could have been. I’ve made trips to visit friends and family on several occasions. Albeit with some anxiety, I did make myself do it. I’ve attended birthday parties, graduations, weddings, art openings, plays–actually quite a lot considering that I think I might be happy not crossing the threshold of my home at all.
And it all comes back to Pat Martino, his advice, and then Pete’s voice echoing it. “Focus on the things you CAN do.” In my case, it was a retroactive consideration, focusing on what I had done. Now I’ll apply it to my future plans, and I think I’ll make more headway, or at the very least, appreciate the things I am able to do.
What is something that you can do right now, that would help you chip away at something blocking your path?