The beautiful wild calls to me more and more. Days and years pass, and I am moving closer to death now that I am in the last third of my life. Being here now, I feel done with so much focusing on the logical minutia of my days. It’s easier than when I was thirty or forty in a way. This minutia feels stale as I move towards lightening the agendas others have for me, the ones I have of myself, the tyranny of the urgent cracking its whip over me to move faster, work harder, accomplish more. I am ready to become a human being now rather than a human doing. My commodity is not valued in how much I can accomplish but in realizing my mystery, to be tenderly compassionate towards all that I have deemed as less than perfect within and around me.
This is what makes perfect sense to me now, the alchemical weaving and blending of logos and mythos together into a substance that becomes far more valuable than either alone. Gold, if you will. I have spent the better part of a lifetime mostly doing one or the other, furiously scurrying around to accomplish whatever long to-do list I had in order to be able to live in the mystery. As if I had to earn the right to lie on my back in the grass and gaze at shape shifting clouds or put my pen to the page when the first lines of a poem slipped in to my awareness or try my hand at putting some color on the canvass—or merely to take a much needed nap.
What makes sense now is living on purpose, living with awareness of all that I am doing in each moment, of acceptance wherever I might find myself. Washing dishes turns into an act of grace as I feel the warm water running over my hands, handle each fork and cup, happy there are dishes to wash, food to prepare, food at the end of my arm anytime I want it, blessing the earth and each hand that went into its growth and preparation; or paying bills, feeling the abundance of the universe, that I have been graced with a roof over my head, a place to lay my tired body at night.
I am grateful I have what I need when I need it even if it is not always exactly what I think I want.
Today I was counting the last of my former life, the years I have spent in caretaking. I believed it mine to shoulder the atlas as I cared for seriously ill friends and family, along with a serious illness of my own. Counting too many years in the business of living and dying, emergencies, and crisis and drama in the physical, mental and emotional arenas—I am just done.
Now I feel ready to count the stars in the midnight sky, to watch the sailing ships of clouds passing by. I am ready to take long walks, write books, and rise up and up into my one beautiful life before dissolving back down into the primordial soup from which I came.
Yet even in the sad and the bad, the worry, the hurry that has consumed my days, I am utterly grateful. These are gifts of pain I have been graced with. Deep within me lies a dark underworld from which arises a priceless seam of gold, a transmutation of the pain and fear into a precious metal. I couldn’t have fully understood this until more recently. I am multi-dimensional, of the stars and of the earth. In this suit of flesh and bone, lives a being descended from the stars, from the source of life itself. I am meant while I am here to dwell in both myth and logic, to learn equally about both, to learn to weave them into a beautiful tapestry. Everything is purposed in my life to propel me towards the realization of this wisdom…to be heavenly minded while tending to life, to mend that which is broken with my compassion, to seek forgiveness, to forgive, to be a place holder for love, to be in a possession of a heart that has been broken wide open, to become fertile ground where life can grow.
I have not entirely mastered these things yet. It’s okay. It is not mine to completely master. Better to accept my own humanity, my fragility, my missing the mark so many times. This is true wisdom to know there is perfection in failure and fragility. It is part of the dying process, the cycle of life. Everything has to eventually die so that something else can live. At every moment, ten thousand things are dissolving at the same time ten thousand things are arising, taking their turn at form, at life, deciding what they will be, just for the joy and the experience of being in any particular state. For are we not each and every one and everything nuances of the one life that runs through us all, here to learn about life, ourselves, each other?
Grace is continually born out of pain, life arising out of death. Our pain becomes another’s grace as we reach out to touch and comfort. We can do this because we’ve been there, walked through the same fire of suffering. Lives and hearts are made whole from shards of anguish and heartache. Love grows. We’re not alone.
As I enter the last third of my time here on earth, looking back over my life, I find that some things never change as much I might have believed they did. I am still starting over again as I’ve done many times before. It’s all about “beginner’s mind”. I won’t officially arrive until I graduate from this life. Until then I am still learning–and in fact, learning many things are not to be taken as seriously as I once thought, that laughter counts for a lot and kindness starts with me.
I love these exerpts by spiritual teacher and author of Life With A Hole In It, A Guru in the Guest Room, Vicki Woodyard :
“….Here’s the deal. No one reaches full potential until they die. Not only that, no one appreciates them until they do. I am speaking of both literal and psychological death. ‘The price of kissing is your life.’ …….
Things come and go. People come and go. You’ll leave and probably forget your hat. If you do, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. It just means you forgot your hat. See, that’s the thing about death. You can’t come back for your hat.”
WHAT I REMEMBER IS JAYNE. Jayne Mansfield, that is—the bursting at the seams, large bosomed, blonde bombshell and sexpot of the 60’s. The Hollywood star with the heart shaped pool in her backyard lived a large life in my mind. I wanted to be her. I was nine or ten playing house in my bedroom—as Jayne Mansfield, of course, stepping into the cool darkness of my closet to make out with an imaginary, muscle ripped Mickey Hargitay, while my girlfriends, all the while sighing and moaning, languished on my bed waiting for me to come to my senses and come out of the closet.
Then one day she was beheaded. I was devastated. Riding in the front seat of her car, slamming into and under the backside of a semi-truck, and…off went her head—I imagine right into the back seat! Just like that.
I imagine that she believed she still had a lot more making out with Mickey left to do, but as you know in all things, they end. Time runs out, and all you’ve ever done is all you’re ever going to do. And besides all that, I had already grown tired of making out with Mickey and was feeling the intensity of my puberty bearing down on me in the crush of feelings I had towards the boy down the street.
So much innocence left behind as the crush of life began to have its way with me. I almost succumbed to it more times than I care to say. Lucky for me, I made it this far into my sixties. Surprised to be here now, I was sure I would die before I was fifty. My entire adult life was white hot with extreme busyness and caretaking, and then total collapse—all of which I believed to be a badge of honor I wore proudly.
While at lunch the other day, my friend, Mystic Meena (whose odometer is getting ready to roll over to seventy), happened to remark on a sixty-seven year old actor that had passed away recently. Meena related how television pundits had observed after his passing that at least he had lived a long, full life—to which my friend exclaimed, “Bullshit!” When I was thirty, sixty-seven was definitely old—and death not so unexpected—that is, of course, unless you are sixty-seven. Unless you are ready for it, the pronouncement of death always comes as a surprise at any age. I don’t feel done yet.
Here I am, and the sun is beginning to dip in the sky. There isn’t a whole life left in front of me as I have a series of “holy shit” realizations that I’ve got to begin now if I want to find and use my real voice. My dreams are still the same. It’s just that I have a little less physical energy to realize them with. Maybe the point of the body sliding past the apex of youth is this: it compels you towards your realness. I don’t know for certain. It’s just a hunch I have.
Now that the leaves are beginning to turn into blazing yellows and crimson reds and oranges, into their most flagrant and final stand for beauty, I am wondering how I didn’t see there could be so much splendor in moving towards that inevitable final breath of falling from the tree. What a metaphor to our lives—the grace-filled allowing, the gentle welcoming of age, the coming home to ourselves, finally. Perhaps, the leaning into our wisdom years, of spreading our brightly colored canopy over the lives of those coming up after us as way-showers is what really matters. Personally, I don’t want to waste it, not a single drop, not a single brilliant colored leaf of it between now and the time whatever pronouncements over my impending demise are made.
I am heading towards my glory years; and it going to take some careful planning and execution as I begin to re imagine myself, playing smarter, not harder. There is still time enough whether it be one year or forty years. I cannot take my body for granted anymore. I cannot ignore and punish it. As long as I am able, there is a strict requirement for honor and listening, then supplying it with the necessary rest, nutrition and nurturance it requires. In this one moment I have been gifted. It almost didn’t happen.
Whatever has happened in my life has brought me full circle. I am lucky to get the chance to have a “do over” in the last act of my life, playing the part of me rather than someone else. My fear, in whatever time is left, is leaving this life realizing I never had the courage to live an authentic life.
Admittedly, I am scared. It’s a moment by moment thing requiring a firm commitment. Holes must be plugged in order to enter into right relationship with myself. Gone is the bent towards extremism in my thoughts and actions, doing everything at once or nothing at all. It is not mine to single-handedly save the world.
If I want to live out the richness and the depth of all that has brought me here, I must practice sacredness and gratitude in the gentle or not so gentle breath of each day, in allowing, in letting go, in lightening up, and in laughter, and last but not least, in the flow of words that find their way from my heart to my fingertips. I am rising up and up into this voice that has been given me, flowering quietly or noisily, vibrantly and brilliantly. I am practicing freedom, using the only voice I have to set this prisoner free.
You have not heard from me lately due to one of the following reasons—pick one:
1. I have been seeing a great deal of this handsome frog.
2. I’ve been having delirium tremens from using the wrong detergent.
3. I have been spending a great deal of time with my mom who is getting ready to make her final transition into the great beyond.
If you picked 1 or 2, sorry! Door number 3 it is, but, hopefully, you already knew that, although I have dated a few handsome frogs in my time.
My mother is getting ready to walk or sail or fly, or whatever it is we do, through that big door called death. We all have to go through it sooner or later. However, as her daughter, it is extremely challenging to watch. Hospice tells me she is experiencing terminal agitation, which is a stage where the body has run its course but is still fighting to survive. There can be intense anxiousness, twitching, jerking, and an inability to lay still, odd body contortions, combativeness and anger. This can start from hours up to a couple of weeks preceding death. She is already a week into it, but had been declining somewhat dramatically the last several weeks before.
There is a beautiful resident cat in the cottage of the memory care facility where my mother lives. His name is Jasper, and he is a silken black very Zen like cat. I am told that when a resident is getting ready to pass, he will climb on their beds and stay there. He starts at the feet, and as it gets closer, he moves to the middle of the bed and at the end he is on the pillow with them. In the past, my mother never appreciated him jumping on her bed, but last week she was found petting him as he lay next to her. Jasper has taken up residence at her feet.
It is difficult to watch someone you have loved your whole life shrink down to nothing and be in so much agony in their slide towards the inevitable. She has been in hell every minute and completely aware of being there even if the person who once lived in her body is no longer there.
I have had to make some painful decisions in these final days as to her care and comfort, and I have to tell you, it has been wrenchingly difficult and guilt producing. There is so much I don’t know here. She has a DNR order (Do Not Resuscitate) in place, but what to do about getting water or a little bit of food into them if there is still the willingness or ability to swallow at all? She has been placed on heavy meds in order to keep her comfortable. Otherwise, she is attempting to get up and then repeatedly falling; shockingly, she’s even been found climbing on chairs and sitting on tables. No one would expect this from a very frail and skeletal 95 lb. woman who just two years ago, weighed in at 180 lbs. After several recent small strokes, her speech is unintelligible, but she is still amazingly strong and has a death grip when she decides to hold on to something. She has become a danger to herself at this point, and after getting as much water and a bit of food down her as she has been able to tolerate, she now sleeps, due to the influence of medication.
As her guardian, it has been up to me to tend to all the business of dying. I am either with her, or making phone calls and tying up a lot of loose ends every day. It is a tremendous amount of work, not to mention the emotional business. In the evening, I collapse and cry in my compulsion to try and make her dying as comfortable as possible. This is not always so possible, and there are daily emotional adjustments to her constant and many changes.
Still there have been some funny and/or meaningful things she has been able to say in the middle of it all:
She mentioned that she keeps seeing “Dad” hanging around a lot lately and didn’t know why.
The other day, my girlfriend, who has adopted my mom as her own and has provided invaluable help as Certified Nursing Assistant, was tending to her. Mom looked up at her and asked, “If you’re my sister, then why are you so short?!” (Her “tall” sister passed away several years ago, and my mom has been mentioning her a lot lately—so she must be hanging around, too.)
My same girlfriend told her that she was very beautiful, and my mom straightened herself and replied in a clear distinct voice, “Yes, I AM beautiful!” before slumping over and returning to her unintelligible speech once again.
You have to find reasons to laugh. Yesterday after we left my mother sleeping and after we met in conference with administration and hospice regarding mom’s care where I chose comfort over everything else they could do, my girlfriend and I went to lunch and had a glass of wine. Jokingly, I informed her that taking care of the dying requires lots of wine. She said she thought she would write that into her contract the next time she takes care of a terminally ill patient.
Family and friends have made last minute visits to see her, but it does not appear that she recognizes much of anyone anymore. Yesterday while sitting next to her bed, this same girlfriend who has been there every step of the way through this journey with me, suggested to my mother that she hug me. On cue, my mother who was determined to lean vertically in my direction, put her head on my chest. I put my arms around her and for over an hour we stayed that way—her ear against my beating heart, my fingers playing in her hair, gently caressing her back and arm…it was the last moment of heaven together before she closed her eyes—maybe forever.
A number of years back, my daughter was an assistant teacher at an elite private school just outside of Los Angeles.Many of the children that attended there had parents in the movie industry and one of them was a student in my daughter’s classroom. His dad just happened to be Will Smith. Since I was personally dating the cousin of the owner of the school at the same time, I was invited to several social events, which also included being introduced to a few of the celebrity parents, including Will Smith and his beautiful wife, Jada. It was quickly apparent to me they were no different than the rest of us, and on top of that, they were warm, friendly and engaging. Since then I have seen interviews with them, and it is my feeling that they are old souls here on this planet, highly evolved individuals with ample amounts of integrity and wisdom. I realized there is a lot I could learn from them.
So tonight, when I happened along this Facebook post, Be Intoxicating, by Jada (https://www.facebook.com/jada), I was thrilled. It’s a perfect segue from my last blog post, “The Crack in the Mirror”. And I am excited, having written that piece over a year ago, to have transitioned to a place of being pretty okay with who I am and where I find myself at this stage of my life. I am loving just sending out love wherever I happen to find myself by noticing the people that end up in front of me—the teller at the bank, the stranger at the other end of the phone, the person waiting on me, calling them by their first name, engaging them, becoming genuinely interested in their humanity. It’s a selfish act really for all the satisfaction it personally brings to me as I find ways to let someone know they are seen and appreciated just for who they are right here and now, however they show up. I am far from perfect at this and I definitely have my moments of being self absorbed, yet this seems to be fast becoming a new avocation of mine as I learn to practice on one person at a time.
But I digress…I’ll just let you read Jada on Be Intoxicating…
I have never been nor will I ever be the prettiest girl in the room. This has a lot to do with my profession, but also with the fact that my grandmother raised me with the belief that there will always be someone prettier than me and that beauty does not guarantee anyone love. Therefore, she did not focus on beauty in her house. Instead, she raised me to focus on what she considered to be the most important component in life…how well we relate to the soul of another.
The other day I met a woman, who was 80, who spoke to the most unreachable spaces of my soul through her kindness, laughter and wisdom. We related in a way that was so intoxicating, it was difficult to leave her. My experience with this woman brought my grandmother’s vision of relating full circle for me. Jada, be a joy to others and may that joy nourish them. Surround yourself with those who are a joy to you and allow that joy to nourish you. Always make the effort to find a language for the untouched spaces of every soul you meet. This is the recipe for blissful intoxication that she has passed on to me.
“Oh, God, help me to believe the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful it is.” —Macrina Wiederkehr
I never leave home without my face on. My public face, that is. This includes hair in place, makeup that includes blush, eyebrows, mascara and eye shadow.
Iwill often joke to new friends, “If something ever happens to me, please remember to put some eyebrows on me!” Usually it gets a big laugh, but no, I’m serious. I only have half of an eyebrow over each eye. Without eyebrows, my face seems frameless, lacking a point of reference. Some mornings can be challenging enough after a difficult night with sleep apnea, frequent awakening cramps and multiple bathroom visits as I stumble into the washroom, look into the mirror and see those two burnt holes in a blanket staring back at me.
I mean I need the stuff! Sometimes I think about not applying mascara, or even, god forbid, an entire face and just going as me. The thought of this causes some anxiety, and so I will determine to just leave the mascara off, then watch as my hand takes on a life of its own, picking up the mascara wand and applying it to each set of eyelashes over my two burnt holes. I mean, what if someone should see me with my dark puffy circles, the brown aging spots and sagging eyes? I am half envious of all those women out there that can get up, run a brush through their hair, slip into an old tee shirt and jeans and proudly walk out the door and not give a damn.
Life is always full of choices. Academically, I am aware of the countless potential I can choose from in any given moment. For some reason that I have not yet let go of, the outward facade that I put on is unusually difficult to step away from. Oh, it is easy enough to pinpoint the development of this story in my life. You know, something having to do with being brought up in the 50’s and 60’s when appearances were everything and women were taught to please others before themselves. My parents were no exception to that rule, and my mother taught me well. She was beautiful and never left home without looking like she just stepped off a Hollywood stage.
When I was sixteen, a onetime date later confided to his friends that I looked like I got hit in the face with a hockey puck. Word got back to me. I was crushed and humiliated. Now looking back, I know that was not a true story. Looking back at younger pictures, there was not a damn thing wrong with me! I was cute—why couldn’t I see it and appreciate it then? Yet you would think that by this stage in life, entering my sixth decade that I would have pulled it together by now. There is still not a damn thing wrong with me. So why do I shy away from cameras and public mirrors?
I recently watched an online story regarding a young woman who had recovered from an eating disorder. After intensive prolonged therapy and recuperation, she made the courageous decision to take a year off from her reflection, blogging online about it. This meant all household mirrors covered up, no focus on dressing room or public mirrors. Her makeup was applied by touch, and she dressed without reflection, even prepping for her own wedding sans mirrors, except for the assistance of a few friends. At the end of the year, she was ready to see her image as if for the first time and found she was finally beautiful in her own eyes, blemishes and all.
I am not so comfortable I could choose as she did, except for avoiding public mirrors, which I already do.
I have made the choice to change a lot of things in my life, but overall, I have to admit that my outward physical appearance is one of the more difficult challenges. I am not as consumed and have made some incremental progress over the years, telling myself now I’m sixty, so I don’t have to look like I’m thirty anymore. Still moving to another country halfway around the world, converting to a different religion, finessing an escape from the clutches of a serial killer or leaving bad relationships and/or losing everything to start over again—I have done all of this and much more—all the easier choices to make. I have succeeded in many areas, stood tall, taken major risks, and pretty much leaped over tall buildings in terms of some choices in my life.
Like a cat, I have managed to live nine lives and be here now to tell about it. Yet I did it all with makeup on! Oh, and the eyebrows, too! I even go into surgery with makeup neatly applied. Unless I’m dying (did that, too), I wear the damn makeup!
How would my life be altered if I made a different choice and walked out the door without perceived definition? I am identified by a set of eyebrows it seems.
So what would happen if one day, maybe even today, I put the makeup down? Would small children run screaming when they saw me? Would people cover their eyes at my appearance? Would otherwise friendly dogs bite? I think not. What I might actually begin to realize is a new sense of freedom after the first moments of insecurity and slinking around corners in order to avoid being seen. I might even forget myself a little more and begin to see other sentient beings in a way I have never appreciated as much. Or maybe I’m putting too much stock in my public persona. Yet I secretly suspect my world view would be positively altered.
Where are the boundaries when one becomes undefined, when one lets go of all tightly held identities? I suspect I would become freer to “make up” my own life. Who would I be without eyebrows? And does wearing makeup encapsulate my life into something more acceptable by others rather than allowing me my own fuller creative expression? Maybe my life would come to define me more than my made up face on some level as I let go of immediate impressions of what I think others think I am. And not becoming too rigid about this, I would be at liberty to wear it or not on any given day.
I have a girlfriend who is an accomplished mystery novel writer. When she has a good idea or vision about something that would help or heal in this world, her whole body is instantly and purposefully moving towards it to accomplish it. Yet she remains largely undefined, and to some who might look at her, by her own admission, their first impression is, “What the hell happened here?!” It is inspiring, yet scary to watch her in action. She is kind of crazy in a good way, too, having committed herself to being here and fully participating in the larger healing process around her..
My friend informs me that upon initially meeting me years ago, her immediate impression was that I was a nice, sweet, boring type of church lady who didn’t have much to say for herself. I presented my writing and poetry to her, as others before me have for critique or approval. Not expecting a lot, she admits she was astonished reading it. A complete vision unfolded in an instant as she witnessed it going into hospices and hospitals and books, places where it would begin to heal lives and hearts. She tells me, “Shoshana, do you realize who you are and what you have to do with this? Your work is brilliant!” She envisions my life’s purpose in exactly the way I have always known it at the deepest core level since I was a small child, and she consistently holds the mirror of my true self before me. Gotta tell you, pisses me off! Because she, along with more than a few of my other respected and accomplished writerly friends, won’t shut up or leave me alone on the subject! They are on my back about it all the damn time. Yet, I know they are absolutely spot on.
My friends are my conscious when I don’t want to see. They are me in a way. I look at them and see myself, even when I don’t want to see.
Taking my makeup off to show the world my true self, my blazing heart, could very well be the next thing I need to do to set my life on fire, or at the very least, to set some part of myself free. Wrinkles, age spots, dark circles, missing eyelashes and eyebrows, nothing in place to offset the crooked teeth or crooked smile. Yet is it not worth my life—an amazing and brilliant force for good—that would say to the world “there you are!” instead of “here I am!”