Not the Only One

 

The finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom on fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate handling. Yet we do not treat ourselves nor one another thus tenderly.

~ Henry David Thoreau

 

My remaining brother’s life ended yesterday. This makes three brothers who died before reaching their sixtieth year – one who predeceased our father and two who closed their eyes on this world after. What can be said about a family which loses its sons at life’s midpoint, when, crisis be damned, the fog begins to clear and one is able to chart one’s course with hands firmly on the wheel – having culled enough life experience to understand the nature of its ebb and flow? To look back and forward at the same time, extending a helping hand to those who follow in our wake? Instead of assessing accomplishments and resolving not to repeat one’s failures – does one simply relinquish faith and capitulate to self loathing? Thus far, this has been the case for all three sons. All three had lifelong struggles getting wedged in the crack between fundamentalist religion and substance abuse. All three were products of a murky past, as was their progenitor before them. Are we forever doomed to repeat the idiosyncrasies of those whose shoes we attempt to fill?

Perhaps it is birthing children that has saved my sisters and me. Somehow nurturing and giving rise to life, though exhausting to the body and the mind, possess enduring merit. There is a visceral memory of carrying another within the confines of our skeleton and skin – a responsibility to gather the fragile to the fold – that keeps us focused on the incredulous and fleeting nature of life, itself. It is facile to focus an unwavering eye on miracles when we have witnessed them spring from our own flesh. It somehow seems easier to rise above the pettiness of pride and egoism when confronted with the needs of our offspring.

I wonder at the bottomless void in these men. I contemplate a society which demands its sons man up in order to grow up. For where are the role models for sensitive souls born into male bodies – the poets and artists among us? That men reach adulthood with any sense of their spirits intact seems to me an overwhelming accomplishment. And though it is easier for love to engender love, kindness to beget kindness, it is possible for damage to strengthen into resolve; for what is broken to gather its pieces like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice’s brooms and strengthen in numbers, multiplying compassion and understanding until our world is healed and made whole, one sentient being at a time.

You may say I’m a dreamer – but I’m not the only one.

~ John Lennon

We May Never Pass This Way Again

A 53 year-old friend was recently struck down. Out swimming 300 yards offshore in the crystal blue ocean, he was hit suddenly, unexpectedly by a harbor-bound boat. The craft’s occupants plucked him from the deep where he had sustained multiple lacerations from their motor, and he was helicoptered to the nearest hospital, where, four hours later, he was pronounced dead. Two days passed and the newspaper reported the accident in a single paragraph on page ten.

Thus ends the life of this gentle husband, provider and friend. Unremarkable news, as he was not famous nor was he well known in the community. One day after the article appears there is no trace in the paper, nor can I locate further details by Googling. Likely this event will fade for all but a very few, replaced by news on the iPad2, harbor parking and the Hokulia bypass. His widow, a small private Korean woman, does not answer their phone, doubtless bereft with gut-wrenching grief, sobbing until she is amazed the human body can still produce tears. One imagines her twisting in torment, going over every word, every gesture as well as the lack of words and gestures of their final hours together. Stunned and numb and alone in the big beautiful home they created together, the exquisite pieces of art and treasured oriental antiques may ironically appear irrelevant.

The move to Hawaii was his dream. She had been missing friends in the Bay area, missing a house that didn’t require constant cleaning from the dust and mold endemic to the islands. If she chose to return to that place, their imprint in our little town would rapidly dissolve into memory. Most people in this community did not know her husband who worked from home and rarely socialized. His one outlet was the ocean. Swimming. My husband was left wondering if they had had cross words as their last. He was touched to tears with this thought, and how fragile and tenuous the threads that bind us, one to the other. I was in a more collective hemisphere, noticing people in a rush to get somewhere or nowhere, none of us knowing how quickly our lives could end.

It can happen at the speed of light.

Death is frightening for many who spend much of waking life racing to blot out any thought of it. I ponder it most every day. There are those who would consider this odd, melancholy, depressing. Some would say I’m courting disaster, but I disagree. I am not dwelling in the house of death, I am dancing life, waking fully to the beauty of existence in every moment. Keeping death in my sights sharpens my wits, focuses my intentions, clears my head of the inessential and prunes the mental overgrowth which falls away, more and more. It is, I would say, more important to my spiritual practice than mantras or prayers or meditation could possibly be. Living with death in view keeps my heart open, my words kind, my soul tender. These lyrics spring now to mind, in memory of those we too quickly forget:

 

Life, so they say, is but a game and we let it slip away.

Love, like the Autumn sun, should be dying, but it’s only just begun.

Like the twilight in the road up ahead, we don’t see just where we’re going.

All the secrets in the Universe, whisper in our ears

And all the years will come and go, take us up, always up.

We may never pass this way again.

~ Seals and Crofts

Mahukona in winter

 

OBSESSION

… And, when he shall die, take him and cut him out in little stars. And he will make the face of Heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night. And pay no worship to the garish sun.
– Shakespeare’s Juliet, in Romeo and Juliet

 

She craves the big Out. Ever since he passed a decade ago, she has languished. She did not unduly grieve the loss of the second, though her children came to respect him more than their own progenitor. Married more for security in that temerarious time as her generation was inclined to do – throwing body and soul into the ring of Another, hoping to heal the gaping wound that was her heart. Never did, or could.

The first was toxic. She did not care. Only later she was made to feel a fool unless she turned him out, achingly severing that twisted umbilicus that kept them fused to their dynamic for thirty years. It did not matter who suffered; indeed she defended his actions over the bruised bodies of innocents. Conspired with him, jealous of sharing his affection. What mother would not advocate for her own offspring? You might well ask.

She lies there now, waiting. Meals and meds; intermittent, inconsequential slumber. For years her faith proved enough. Now questions arise in the narrow interstices of her mind where platitudes fail. At this point of no turning back. She has let it all go, no energy left to muster into living. But what If? What if It isn’t what they say, and they never meet in the Hereafter?

Her head slumps onto slack shoulders, her gait wobbling, unsteady. Nothing rallies her any more– not the Hollywood gossip, not Broadway or Tiffany’s. It was ever things that granted islands of pleasure, weighting down the surges of abandonment threatening to swamp her under. People demanded too much of what she simply was not prepared to give.

Perhaps it was destined to end. Maintain that intensity any longer and the ride alone would have killed her – but oh, what a glorious way to go! To pierce the numbing veil, savor the adrenaline of uncertainty; to never know, to ever seek, to fasten onto the dream, to awaken from the nightmare that was him! To awaken from the pall of her nowhere life, into Him.

 

Magnificent Obsession - Jane Wyatt and Rock Hudson

 


Life’s for the living

Nearing the end of my fifties makes me almost sixty. At least I’m more sixty than I am fifty, and that’s okay. What on earth anybody can do about it anyway is beside the point. It’s life, birth, growing up and death, wrapped into the shortest time span fathomable, once you get past fifty. It really is all relative, because in many ways, the life which is truly mine has only begun. Call me a late bloomer, but I suspect we all flower a bit later than we’d hoped. Most of us know more at eighteen than we ever will again. Life is a process of deconstruction, if we get it right. What we believe we know usually precedes actual knowledge garnered only through experience with adversity. And then once learned, there’s a backlog of ruminating as we cycle deeper into meaning.

Surviving childhood was a mixed bag – I learned a great deal but only in retrospect after bumbling through a good couple of decades, once I got out on my own. In the mix I raised two daughters while wiping mud from my eyes with regards to my choices in companions – for which I assume full accountability. When love is blind it’s only cataracts, and they can, with some discomfort, be removed. Learning to love in the face of another revealing what has been hidden, perhaps even from themselves, enlarges our capacity for unconditional acceptance of our own less savory qualities. If we let it.

While many my age long to recapture their youth, you could count my resistance to that idea by the grey hairs on my head. I’ll take wisdom over foolishness any day. And lord knows, I needed to slow down. Thus that golden road opens up before me, and I set foot on it like Dorothy skipping toward Oz. Many women I know have not been able to break the parental mold and end up raising a flock of lucky grandkids. Not me, though I’d welcome a healthy relationship with any future progeny that might come along. In the meantime, I’m too busy checking off potential regrets from a very short list. I want to face myself starkly and honestly, to die with a clear conscience, a life fully lived, an unguarded heart and a mind at peace with the choices I’ve made. I want my eyes open and my senses piqued – to take in everything this world lays at my feet – before the jig’s up and the next journey begins.

 

The hair of the dog

It’s sitting right here on my desk, the unsent letter to the IRS. I thought to write it because, well, they might appreciate an explanation as to why we haven’t paid our taxes and might not yet for awhile. Then I was out riding my bike and found a little dog by the side of the road, obviously struck by a car and left there to suffer. Two other women witnessed her as well right in front of their professional office, and were ready only to call the humane society, who would have promptly put her down. They didn’t want to soil their hands with her, and barked suggestions from afar when I gently took her tiny head into my hands and gazed into her frightened eyes. Their excuse was ‘no money, no time,’ which I could have claimed with equal vigor. Yet my decision was made with a clear head, and when I phoned my husband, he was immediately in accord that we would do whatever we could. Of course.

No collar, no chip, loaded with fleas and formerly nursing a litter of pups somewhere in her recent past, this small being is barely a year old, give or take a couple of months. One thing led to another and we are trying to coax the little creature back to health, if such a thing can even be expected. She has yet to put any weight on her two hind legs but seems to have some feeling in them, though the vet says only time will tell. There remains a stack of papers to file, floors strewn with our other two dogs’ hair and dishes in the sink. And then there are the unpaid bills in a stack roughly equal to the file-worthy one.

Life changes on a dime, and those of us willing to be open and prepared to encounter the unpredictable are living it. The rest is just memorization, not really participation. And if sometimes that which inserts itself into our comfort zone feels overwhelming, this is the stuff of living – not the papers, the corporate demands, the manic housecleaning. Life supporting life as it does in nature, with no expectation of result. Death occurs every moment, and the symphony of creation is not ours to conduct. We can only play our part when the music is set in front of our noses, sometimes last minute, often without rehearsal. There is a fundamental rightness in this, a prioritizing of values that streams into the foreground like a runner breaking ribbon – and though there might ever be a close second, there’s rarely a tie – even if the first squeaks past by only a hair.

 

image: shadow-of-the-statue.blogspot.com