"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Year Two Begins

Facebook and the news are full of back-to-school this week. Walt met his new classes yesterday. My former teammates met theirs on Tuesday. This week marks the beginning of my second year of retirement. I feel tugs of something now as I sit in a quiet house looking out on a quiet yard on a cool quiet gray day. It's not sadness exactly. Or even nostalgia. This is the time of year when my whole being vibrates with longing for some unknown possibility. It's like the wall between what is and what can be is thinnest in the fall.

I signed up for Medicare yesterday. The process was easy and pain free. It took 15 minutes at the most. Then I went to the dentist to have whitening trays made. That took longer, mostly because the person making the trays has become my friend over the thirty years or more I've been seeing her when I go in for my checks. I also went to yoga and then walked 6 miles, 4 with a friend who is also retired. We both turn 65 this fall and so our conversations are full of how to navigate aging with as much grace and as little suffering as possible. The entire day focused on creating an end-of-life that is as full and alive as possible.

The wall between life and death grows thinner, and more obviously so, with each passing year.

The distance between my working life and this new retired life feels so much greater now than the actual time that's passed.

A year ago I was overflowing with joy and relief. Every day felt like a gift that I created as I went. For a while I did little that felt constructive: read, walked, sat on my patio. Lots of stillness. Lots of moments spent absorbing whatever was on offer. Hummingbirds chittering at the feeder. Two new cats. Fixing a dinner with full attention and care. Toby walks fully awake and present - no longer used as a processing time of a difficult day, but now a small pilgrimage into holy territory where kingfishers and eagles and salmon and deer and coyotes reign. Where Toby's joy and energy seemed a reflection of my own.

Slowly my days took on more purpose. A yoga practice established and maintained. Time with friends that filled me with light and energy and gratitude. Afternoons spent with books and cats and no pressure to do anything else. Travel - Vashon, Idaho, Tucson, Hawaii, Malibu, Grand Canyon, Vancouver Island. What a marvel that is. I look at the list and can't quite believe that that gets to be my life.

There were shadows. Of course there were. The biggest being my middle brother's Parkinson's diagnosis, his rapid decline, the awareness that whatever was happening to him was more than Parkinson's. As painful as the loss of the relationship we had when he was whole, is the loss of relationship that is the result of other siblings' choices around his illness. And then there is the ongoing challenge of recreating a marriage relationship in older age, in retirement, when our paths are no longer parallel.

Tears well often these days. Some are sadness, grieving the losses of sibling and spousal connections. Some are deep gratitude for the life of choice and privilege I lead right now. Sometimes in yoga my throat will close and my eyes fill for no good reason. So much feeling looking for an outlet. Without the distraction and fatigue of work, I experience so much more of what I feel.

For every thing I accomplished last year, there is another item on my list of things to do that didn't get done. I didn't get the inside of my house painted. I didn't get closets cleaned. I didn't write nearly as much as I intended. I didn't get thin. I didn't volunteer or sign up for mediation training or take classes. I didn't offer classes. I didn't get my pictures organized.

I care less about the didn't-get-dones than I thought I might. They are all things I'd like to accomplish at some point, but only one item has a certain urgency behind it. The writing. Always the writing. Some days I wish it would go away, that voice that urges and whispers and coaxes. Can't I just walk away from that part of myself? Isn't it done? A possibility that was never fully realized? And I suppose the answer could be yes. But then how would I know what anything means? How would I know myself, my soul, my purpose? And if it's so important - and it surely seems to be - then why do I resist the voice so strongly?

Last year I was a prisoner set free. This year I'm less dazzled by the endless variety of choices, the bright colors, the freedom to choose whatever I want. I am more overwhelmed by the possibilities, more aware of the time limitations, wanting to find a balance. Frustrated that I really can't do it all, all at once.

I was in Powell's last spring with my friend, Mary. We were there to hear Krista Tippett speak. As we wandered the store, looking at books, we talked about authors and titles we were drawn to, ones we'd read, and ones we wanted to read. Mary bought a Gloria Steinem title. I bought the book Krista Tippett was there to promote. The next day, Mary sent me an inspiring and relevant quote from the Gloria Steinem book. I replied that maybe I should have bought that book, too. She responded that I can't read all the books.

I can't read all the books.

It's a pretty obvious truth, but one that all these months later still stops me in my tracks. Because I can not only not read all the books, I probably can't even read all the books I want to read. And if that's true, then it's also true that I won't visit all the places in the world I want to see. It's true that the unfulfilled dreams of my 20 and 30 and 40 year old selves will remain unfulfilled. I could act on them, but my 65 year old self would not find them so satisfying. And it's likely even all my current dreams won't find their way to reality.

Which only means I need to make careful, thoughtful, mindful choices. With my reading. With my travel destinations. With my life decisions. But not too careful, either. There needs to be room for spontaneity, surprise, and acceptance of life coming from left field.

There was a moment in the Canyon this summer. We were floating on bright green water under benevolent blue skies dotted with story book clouds. The temperature was still friendly. My new friend, Shelly, sat next to me. No part of my body hurt. No worries plagued my brain. The thought wandered through, "This is happy." I breathed it in, and breathed it out. The River carried me on and into the next moments in time.

Last week I went north to help my brother sort through his possessions in preparation for his move into assisted living. We sat on his couch in a living room that less than two years previously I'd helped him decorate. Boxes everywhere. Piles of papers. Pieces of random furniture blocking our path. The air full of the smell of an un-housebroken dog, dust, and despair. He seemed so disconnected from the loss. I seemed to be feeling both my own losses and his. The loss of freedom, the loss of his dreams, the loss of a home we'd worked so hard together to create. And as I looked at his unsmiling, unshaven face I wanted to weep. I breathed it in, and breathed it out. We got busy and packed and sorted.

I can't read all the books. I can't travel to everywhere. I can't stop bad things from happening. But I can be fully present for each moment, savor the breath and the life and the possibilities. I have this moment, and probably the next few. If I am able to hold each with gratitude and wonder, then it won't matter quite so much how I spend my moments and minutes and months. In full mindfulness, the thinness of the wall enriches what is rather than diminishing it.

And so this new year begins.