This life. This life as it is this moment. This life as it edges closer to the end of this life.
I have been moving through this time more rapidly than I would prefer but with a clear awareness of the abundance I am offered. Perhaps offered is too personifying a word, since it implies an other doing the offering. Let’s just say I have come upon a period of tremendous gratitude of late.
For what, you ask. Ah. It is hard to respond without sounding trite or reductive. Perhaps it is simply the waking to an absence of what must have come before — a feeling of worry, what the day might bring, what responsibilities I might mishandle, what surprises might come my way.
I’ve never been good with surprise, the unguarded perimeter suddenly permeated by a stone, a shard of glass, an arrow, a missile, a wayward planet. Whoa, steady now. What sort of missive is this that has blasted through the skin of my existence and lodged deeply within my inner reaches, to be digested and integrated into the whole of me?
No, I don’t take kindly to surprise or shock or news flashes. I like a kind of predictable trajectory. So now in my later years when I wake each day to the sound of the undulating ebb and flow of ocean tides outside my window, I assume that this day, each day, will offer a sort of spaciousness to fill with the endeavors that have always given me pleasure, but at this juncture have outlived the other necessary activities of one’s adult years — work, children, house, social duties. Yes, there are still troubles to be struggled over, marches to attend, votes to cast, a sense of responsibility for a future for all of our children. And yet, nevertheless, I have the privilege to approach each day with the wonder of… will I write, or paint, or conceptualize? Will I plan outings with friends, or cook that chicken roasted with potatoes, onions, broccoli, and zucchini, or will I go for a long walk along the ocean, turning off as I hit the breakwater and continue to the canals? Will I swim in the pool, pushing through my intervals feeling the pressure acutely in the center of my chest — is it heart or lung, and then remember once again how miraculous to be in the body at this time in my own history.
I am drawn to a certain kind of feeling as I live my hours and days in the remaining segment of my time on this earth as a sentient human being. My older son calls that feeling ‘moments of great wellbeing,’ although when I described the experience to a friend recently, she named it, ‘moments of euphoria.’ Whatever the label, it is distinguished by a rush of both physical and emotional energy, a desire to skip or shout or simply exclaim that this is excellent. ‘This’ could be a quick peek at the sun hitting the sidewalk in just such a way, or lying down on the bed to watch through the window as the late afternoon daylight breaks into the reds and oranges of sunset over the water. Or stepping back while painting in order to make a decision and truly seeing the whole image. The feeling can crop up at any odd juncture — sitting down into a chair with a hot cup of tea brewing in front of me and an old dear friend across the table beginning a story about something important in her life, or… well, you get the point. I suppose everyone has those times. And I have no idea why they occur when they do or even why they happen at all.
But no matter the source, I am blessed with regular doses of that specific feeling, and even have come to understand that this life I have been offered is stocked full to the brim with opportunities to dip into it. Like fishing at a salmon run, or sunbathing at a California beach — the odds are skewed towards yes.
What I’m really saying here is that something quite astonishing has occurred. I had a period of what might be called challenge in my childhood. And somewhere along the road — was there a signpost even intimating that the terrain was diverging from one landscape to another — but at some point, my life went from the dark to the light. It had been years of storm clouds, and then I crossed over to the land of plenty.
And here I am.
I have been moved in this time — the Ericksonian phase of giving back — I have been compelled to spread, broadcast the news, to the young, to the weary, to those who are struggling. It’s the Buddhist mantra — all paths have pleasure and pain. I am the living proof. It is not possible for anyone to be exempt from this overarching truth. This too shall pass; it all will move along. But in the moments we are handed when there is bounty, I say, let’s rejoice. I am here to give thanks.
The counterbalance and most likely associated preoccupation in my day-to-day life is with death. Not a new orientation, but plentifully available nonetheless. Is it the grounding in a lifelong awareness of an endpoint that allows for great bliss, or do those particular moments of pleasurable highs add up to another equation? If allowed such incandescent times, will I use up my quota, and isn’t it just about now, or then, or when that the grim reaper will say, Okay, my dear, let’s leave a little bit of the goodies for the others. The starving in poor nations, or even in our own, say. The children with cancer. The women gang raped by villagers. The 176 passengers on that plane that got caught in the crossfire of political idiocy.
I read yesterday about a woman in the U.S. who had lived to 111 years old. What, ho? I say. Unfathomable. What might change if I had another four decades or so to go? Yes. I say, yes.
It is only now, so late in an already extensive life, that I am digging around in my family history, researching first my mother’s long life of heroics and now, at long last, my father’s time of narcissistic but talented existence, and yes, those two qualities often do coincide. I am locating translators to interpret his writing, finding people who reference him as a symbol of this or that trend in communist or Jewish history. My past as a trite example of gender relations through the ages — the long suffering mother, the renowned father who abandons his family, in this case more than one.
I would like to go the distance, if only to pass on to my children the knowledge of their very own ancestry, to bolster my newfound sense of pride in my story, really all the stories that came out of the War and now are spoken rather than buried away. I say yes, yet again. Let it be so.
Clearly there is wisdom that comes with age. We recognize and preach, it’s not over til it’s over, don’t lose hope. Life is long, there is great solace in the last third of the run. If I were to pick one mantra from this time it would be, you never know.
I never knew about euphoria when young. Or even wellbeing. I knew fear and anxiety. I knew the defensive manic state that raises the voice, energizes the body, leads to wild laughter and risk. Like a table of drunks at a bar — aren’t we all as happy as children? But no, this feeling I’m talking about isn’t a reaction to anything other than the breath in, then out, to the wind on the cheek, to the wave rolling forward and then back, to the moon and then yet again the sun the next morning.
Give me 111. That’s all I ask. Or 106. I’m not greedy. Honestly, I’ll take whatever I’m offered. And then lay my head down to sleep.