Friday, 1 April 2011

A whole life

If I were to summarize what I understand to be the most faithful way of living, it is to "embrace life whole."  I mean to say that the world is a very messy place - not in any sense the stuff of sit-coms and other fairy tales. 

Our lives are sometimes beautiful and sometimes terrible. Sometimes life treats us with apparent kindness and generosity and other times it seems we can't catch a break. Even so, being complete and living fully means being present to all of this - the joys, the sorrows, the births, the deaths... everything. Holding back from any one aspect of life creates distance - not only from what we wish to avoid - but from everything.

Three weeks ago, my mother died. Hers was not a death that could easily be dismissed with "she suffered so - she is finally at peace."  My mother, though in her late seventies, was vibrant, energetic, mentally sharp, and physically fit - fit except for a heart valve that had leaked for decades and was now becoming worse, leaving her short of breath. It was time to have that repaired so that she could have a shot at another decade or two of the kind of vibrant living to which she was accustomed and committed.  A botched surgical valve replacement led not to a better quality of life, but to her death after three very bad months.

Well, here it is. The storms have come again to my life. The emotions swirl like cows, bicycles, and houses in some enormous Kansas tornado: 

Flying by over there is my sadness - a feeling of loss - an aching in my gut for all the things I will never be able to say, for the phone calls that will never come, for the moments when I think how pleased she will be at some bit of news and realize that I will never be able to share it with her and hear and see her enthusiasm.

And my anger goes whipping past the window now - a surgeon who couldn't be bothered to visit his failing patient in her suffering goes on making his fortune through a rushed series of surgeries that are not always as careful as he advertises. (A subsequent surgeon discovered that the first operation was badly botched in several ways). I want some kind of apology, if not full out vengeance!

Oh no!  There goes my compassion for her husband - my step-father - who is too deep in dementia to be able to cope with this, but sadly, not deep enough to be unaware of the tragedy that has befallen him. He weeps and I comfort him. 

But it is not only the debris of misery swirling around in this great wind. Over here is the love and support I feel from so very many people - people who come and call and write and email and make their care visible. It is a warmth and a sense of connection that has become to feel so much stronger in sorrow than in better times.

And over there is the joy of the deepening of my bonds to my family - the bereaved. I am especially grateful for the way suffering has brought a deeper connection with my beloved sister. Together, we cry and laugh our way through darkness into light.

And there are the memories that float past whenever I take a moment to look... With a sense of any true life after death coming to me only in my most sentimental moments, the life that continues is what we carry in our minds and hearts. My mother brought a tremendous love and energy and connection and beauty to her world. I know that I can carry these wonderful facets of her life with me for the rest of mine.

On and on the harsh and gentle winds of life blow. We spin and swirl. We laugh and cry. We live and die.

Mary Oliver asks "...what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

Live it. Live it fully and wholly.