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  • Writer's pictureJulie Quiroz

Beyond Words

I visit my father most Sundays, in the nursing home where he's lived for several years. My father has Alzheimer's, but is in excellent health for his age. While he can no longer speak, he has a sweet disposition and a laser focus on the puzzles he works on all day. When I visit, we do a puzzle together, or play chess, or look at photos or picture books.

I wasn't close with my father growing up, as his emotional armor made him very distant. I only came into warm relationship with him as he aged. Unlike so many people who experience loss of a family member to Alzheimer's, I experienced his transformation as a gift.

Recently, I was there to visit when a nurse arrived to take him through an assessment, asking him simple questions, like how old he is. He answered correctly, scrawling words on a notepad.

Then she asked him who I was. For the first time ever, he paused on this question. I watched as tears welled up in his eyes. He handed the pen back to me.

Gently, I put my arms around him and hugged and kissed him. "I know you know who I am," I whispered. "It's okay if you can't remember my name."

In this moment, my father and I passed beyond words, into the unerasable felt memory of tender hands, voices, spirits.

This moment was sacred, as, in truth, all moments are.

No line exists between our work and our humanness, as we have felt so deeply again in these recent weeks, witnessing the excruciating life and death stakes of the troubled world we've created.

Back when work gatherings were mostly in person, I would often invite people to stand in a circle and breathe*, with each person raising and lowering their clasped hands in the rhythm of their breath. Then, I would quietly invite each person to look for someone across the circle whose breath rhythm felt resonant with their own, and to silently begin synching up their breath with that person. Finally, I would invite everyone in the circle to slowly, gently synch up all of our breaths together.

I always know that nothing we say or do for the rest of the meeting will be more important than that moment of shared breath.

Wherever we are, it is our moments beyond words that matter most. Together in our breath, we find our deepest connection, our most potent source of power, our greatest capacity for possibility.

*Gratitude for the teaching and practices of Zen priest and movement strategist Norma Wong,

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