This is OUR year. All of us in the class of 1968, West Covina High School, are turning 65. Grandchildren are being born, trips are being taken and careers are closing or maybe changing. It is a time of exploration and life . . . and inevitable loss.
Our minds are young but our bodies have a few miles on them. Some of us are dealing with knees, hips and eyes that need new parts as the old wear out.
Some of us are examining relationships that have changed over time, making decisions about quality of life.
Some of us are facing serious medical challenges. It is possible that a year from now we may have said goodbye to some of us, though we hope that time is years off.
Most of us are questioning our purpose and legacy now that the demands of parenting children and building a career are far in the past. Who are we? What is important now? How do we spend our time and our energy?
It can be an intensely beautiful time of life. I have heard from the women in our group about their moments of wondrous delight in seeing a sunset or holding a child. Their comments are tinged with gratefulness that they can have those moments. When we were young we may have not considered that life had an ending. We do now.
It takes deep courage, I believe, to live with the beauty and the ache that comes with understanding the impermanence of all things.
Our friend Cheri has that courage. Cheri knows about loss; her mother died at a young age. Cheri carries her spirit with her, remembering the sorrow without letting it harden her.
Cheri is one of those people who instantly connects with you, even if you have not seen each other for years. She listens to the meanings behind people’s words, giving support without asking for anything in return. These last few years as I faced several sorrows, Cheri’s kindness was a safety net of encouragement.
Janice is another one of our group members who lives life with courage. I am sure all of us know people who blame others when things get tough. Janice is not one of those people. When hard times come her way she looks inward to see how her thoughts may be creating her world.
Recently she reminded us that thoughts and feelings are impacted by the setting we are in. The ability to manage emotions can be tougher when driving a car, sitting in an overheated room, or when we are tired. That makes sense. At those times it may be hard to stay focused on the present moment so our mind wonders to darker places.
Janice also can be counted on for elder humor. I get a kick out of her posts on facebook and her t-shirts. She, like Cheri and the other women in our group, know the value of embracing life fully – sorrow and joy, beginnings and endings, crying and laughing.
I was thinking about Janice and Cheri when I pulled out a book by Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun. The book is titled “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.” My son Adam read it after his dad, my first husband Bruce died. He said he read it over and over and I understand why. There is a calmness about it that resonates in a time of loss and change . . . and growing older.
Chodron writes in the book about respecting, embracing impermanence rather than avoiding and resisting what seems like pain. She offers the idea that when we accept the impermanence of life we fully understand the sacredness of life as well.
“Impermanence is the goodness of reality…the essence of everything.
…Impermanence is bittersweet like buying a new shirt and years later finding it is part of a quilt.”
She goes on to write about a friend of hers.
“I have a friend dying of AIDS. Before I was leaving for a trip, we were talking.
He said, I didn’t want this, and I hated this, and I was terrified of this. But it turns out that this illness has been my greatest gift.
He said, Now every moment is so precious to me. All the people in my life are so precious to me. My whole life means so much to me.
Something had really changed, and he felt ready for his death. Something that was horrifying and scary had turned into a gift.
Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that.
The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times
Cheri and Janice work at allowing in both grief and joy. I try to learn from them so my heart is not hardened by resistance to or fear of loss.
Like them I practice being accepting of what is and of the impermanence of all things.
Sometimes I stand silently, especially when I am outside in the forest. I stop and feel the ache of life’s passing.
I attempt to be silent, not busy, not hoping or waiting or wanting for what was or what might be. I let myself be okay with even my imperfect attempts at accepting impermanence.
I feel the sorrow and the beauty and the distant fear of loss as I stand there. I let the feelings just be there in me, rather than avoiding them.
In those moments I find myself crying silently without tears for the absolute wonder of life. I ache inside for the maple leaves in the fall, the smiles of my grandchildren, the setting of the sun on the ocean and the death of all things in time.
I am not a master at standing still with these feelings by any means. Sometimes I want to escape from all emotions that are difficult to face.
But those times I allow myself to be in harmony with life – with death and birth, fall and spring, day and night – I find clearness comes to my mind and spirit. I truly see the world that is there, right then.
I hear the sounds around me. I sense, smell and breath the very moment that I am experiencing, the NOW.
It is bittersweet. Chodron is right.
Last night I sat out in the hot tub my son Ryan put in. It is a typical country hot tub, built on a makeshift base in a field surrounded by 100 foot firs, pines and madrones.
The night sky was cold and clear. There was an immense ring around the moon. What a sight; ring at night, sailor’s delight
I leaned back and looked up as the moon and stars moved across the sky. Sometimes a tree moved gently in the upper wind. I was silent, alone and still as I watched the changing pattern of the universe and the earth as they intersected.
I had this ah-ha moment. All weekend I had been with two of my grandchildren. I could have spent the time with them hoping it would not end or aching for what would be lost.
I did have some tears. Their daddy, my son Robin, had died three years before. Mostly I was present with my grandchildren. Past and future were distant, not over shadowing the moment. I accepted it would end; they would go home.
In accepting it would end I had a greater sense of the gift of having them there.
I think Cheri and Janice would have been proud of me for embracing life in the now while accepting the impermanence. I know I am proud of them.
Being 65, even on a quarter tank gas is still a wonderful ride!
FUTURE POSTS: Who says you can’t have spunk at age 65? and other stories from 76 old broads . . . and a few guys.
(c)shaun brink 2015
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