I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The brevity of life

Long ago and far away
I spent yesterday afternoon with my nose in a book. I really wanted to finish it before I went to bed, and it was so captivating that I lost track of time. When I finished it, I closed it with a clap and looked up to see that it was way past my usual bedtime, and I had simply not noticed.

What was the book, you ask? I have just by chance discovered a wonderful new author (well, new to me), Kate Christensen. The book, The Great Man, won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction a few years back. I just picked it up off the shelf, knowing nothing about the author or the novel. It was a very enjoyable read, and next I'll read another of her later books that has gotten quite a bit of press lately, The Last Cruise. It's a happy day when I discover a new author and know I've got some good reading ahead.

Kate seems to write very well from the perspective of an old person. She's not one herself, born in 1962, but she got right inside the head of a woman in her mid-eighties and I could relate to perfectly, and I was fascinated to think of how one must be able to do that. I keep thinking about some of the internal dialogue she described in the book, and it made me wonder how old she is herself. That led, of course, to a google search and the happy discovery of all the other books of hers that I will get to read.

The picture that I put at the beginning of this post is one taken of me and my son Chris at about the same period in time that Kate was born. I know this because of Chris' age and remembering my then-husband who took the picture. He was a camera buff and enjoyed his single-lens reflex camera's ability to capture moody scenes like this one. There is a spiritual aspect to this photo that gives me great pleasure to study, regardless of the fact that I am in it. Or am I? That young girl does not feel like me, and both the photographer and the child are no longer alive. Chris died in 2002 and Don in 2010. The young woman has become a septuagenarian.

Sometimes I think about how many different people I have been during my lifetime, and it boggles my mind. Not only was I a mother and wife, but I also had a three-decade-long career that I have almost forgotten. And another quarter century as a skydiver, jumping out of airplanes and teaching students, now faded into the mists of time. I made my last skydive in 2015, more than four years ago now. These days, I spend my time enjoying reading, writing a few short blog posts like this one, working in the garden, yoga, and walking or hiking around the Pacific Northwest with friends. I've lived in many different parts of the country, but this place, where I've lived for eleven years now, feels most like home.
It takes all of our life to learn how to live, and – something that may surprise you more – it takes just as long to learn how to die. ― Seneca, On the Shortness of Life
During my years on the planet, I have lost many loved ones, some tragic, others peaceful and expected, but they have all left their mark on my own life. I know there are many more years I've lived than I have ahead of me, but that is also expected. Now that I am older, my friends are facing old age along with me, and that brings new challenges that mostly come from diminishing ability or debilitation. It certainly doesn't make life any less interesting; in fact, old age has provided some fascinating revelations. One thing that surprises me is how much I am enjoying life these days. Maybe I'm just learning how to die, as Seneca says in the quote above. Or maybe it's because I'm mellowing with age, just like a fine wine.

My volunteer work, which I've done for the past five years, is coming to an abrupt halt at the end of this month. I received training to become a facilitator to help people write their Advance Directive for Health Care, and the organization I volunteer with is closing down because of funding issues. Our healthcare system is being drained dry, a little at a time, and this is just one more sign that something has to change. I became a notary public so that I could help make the directives legal, and now I'm wondering what I might find that will replace this activity. I have really enjoyed all the people I've met through this work, finding it valuable and eye opening. What now? I suppose I'll find the next endeavor will present itself to me, just as this one did years ago. But it's sad to see yet another part of my life come to a close.

I will certainly let you, my dear readers, know what I decide to do next for volunteer work. It's interesting that what appeals to me is either working with older people or assisting with end-of-life issues. I am smiling because I just remembered a quote from Yogi Berra, where he says that you'd better attend the funerals of your friends, or they won't come to yours. Maybe that's what I'm doing in this work: making sure that you'll come to say goodbye to me when it's my time to go. Just kidding, sort of.

And now it's time to wind up this meditation and look forward to the day ahead. I got so wrapped up in my book yesterday that the garden is parched and needing some attention. My friends at the coffee shop will be waiting for me when I get there soon, and I'm looking forward to another fine sunshiny day. My beloved partner is still asleep next to me, my tea is long gone, and I can feel myself getting ready to leap out of bed. Okay, maybe not leap exactly, but toddle out of bed and get dressed and head out the door. Until we meet again next week, I hope you will be well and that all good things will come your way.

16 comments:

Far Side of Fifty said...

I am certain there are many people out there that could use your help with Health Care Directives you just have to find them. A Hospital Social Worker or Chaplin might know just a spot for you:)
I hope you have a good week doing all those PNW activities that you love! :)

Marie Smith said...

I am enjoying life these days too, Jan. It’s the simple things I cherish, time with family and friends, a nice meal or a picnic, a walk in the great outdoors, coffee with a friend, time with my husband. Things that don’t cost much but mean everything.

My MIL is visiting and we’ve had some great times with her great grandchildren, our grandchildren. We did simple things but they were perfect. She enjoys every minute but is ready for the end of time for her. At almost 87, she is a great example of how to make the most of life. I want to be like her when I grow up.

Linda Reeder said...

I discovered while watching a sad friend's end-of-life party episode of Grace and Frankie, that I had not properly mourned the loss of our dear friend a month ago. Sadness overwhelmed me. I have recovered my equilibrium now, but other aging friends trouble me. At 74 I have a ways to go, and I want those years to be good ones. I just finished my round of physical therapy exercises for today, one way I hope to stay mobile.
We're doing some care taking around here and some packing up, and tomorrow we are off to the Oregon coast for a few days. It's time for a change of scenery and a change of pace.
See you on Facebook.

Tabor said...

A Notary might be useful at the public library for the public on certain days. It will not give you the closeness and richness of your former work, but it might just what some folks need. I went to a wedding last night of friend. Her son is only 21 and seems so young and naive and is marrying an "older" woman from El Salvador. They have a move and great jobs lined up, and I hope her working toward citizenship will not meet with some ugliness. But that party did make me realize we are more and more the oldest people at these events.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

This is really interesting. One needs to be so inwardly strong foe some types of noluteering. Hope you find a cause that is a good fit.

William Kendall said...

Very wise.

Elephant's Child said...

Thank you for introducing me to a new to me author.
I am sorry that your voluntary work is coming to an end, and look forward to seeing what next presents itself to you.
And yes, there is more of life behind me than is ahead of me too, which doesn't stop me enjoying the present.
Have a wonderful week dear DJan.

Gigi said...

I'm sorry that organization you volunteered with is closing - how sad. But I'm sure another opportunity will pop up. Have a fabulous week, my friend!

Rian said...

That is a really neat picture of you and your son. It did capture a moment. To capture a moment like that makes it more than just a photo... but a slice of time captured forever.
As for looking back and moving forward as we age, I think you've got it covered. We have the ability to create the life we want out of what life gives us... good and bad. Some do it better than others.

Red said...

Pretty neat how you went from the new book and how the author got into the head of an elderly person and then a thoughtful discussion on aging.

gigi-hawaii said...

I think this post is exceptional. Love that quote by Yogi Berra and told it to David. Beautiful spiritual photo of you and Chris.

Rita said...

I love that photo! Another great post. :)

I know you will find some interesting way to volunteer. I'm kind of surprised you haven't done any volunteer work at the library when you love books so much and could also get sneak peeks at the newest offerings.

Since you know about the end of life forms and are a notary you could do one of those adult classes through the school system or classes at a local senior center.

I know you'll find something that will grab you. ;)

Arkansas Patti said...

That is my favorite picture of you and Chris, looking toward the future. There is hope and joy in both your faces.
Thanks for the recommendation but I checked my library and they have nothing by her. Rats. The one you just read sounded good, I'll keep my eyes open for her.
I know you will find a way to give and can't wait to see what you throw yourself into. You are an inspiration.

troutbirder said...

Perfect I feel pretty much the same was about this kind of book and viewpoint. I do know a lot about being different people, reinventing ones sell and many tragedies. They and circumstance change us profound. We have much in common DJan perhaps I'll follow you lead and write about in depth sometime. For now only a few words a mom and a wife with dementia the whose life was taken but by the effects of bipolar disease and now the last of my family with epilepsy and memory loss as a consequence..

Friko said...

I love your way of ruminating, as I’ve said many a time before. I too often go into a reverie of what is past, sometimes dead and buried, and I often can’t believe how many years have gone between today’s thought and the memory it evokes.

I admire your volunteering activity, perhaps you could even give advice to people in your blogosphere? I don’t know what is required legally in the US but helping people sort out their advance directives seems to be a really useful service.

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, I don’t know how you are able to come up with such interesting meditations week after week. Well, you are an inspiration and I enjoy your writing. I will look up the new author on Amazon. I should give one of her books a read. I thought about you last week when all the D-Day activities were on the news. Why? Well, there was a 95 (97?) year old man who parachuted into Normandy in 1944. He did the dive again this year. Pretty amazing. In this post you mentioned that your last dive was in 2015. Would you consider doing one more dive? Now, getting back to this post ... I enjoy reading the comments you get. You do have some thoughtful followers here. Just in the last couple of months I found Marie Smith’s blog. She publishes a wonderful blog. And, I feel so sad about troutbirder. He is a great writer but has his plate full taking care of his sweet wife. I also liked the way several comments mentioned your starting photo. You have a knack for picking a great photo to start with, and this one is no exception. Until next Sunday, have a great week! John