On my parents’ refrigerator in my childhood home, there is a magnet: “Old Age is Not for the Fearful.” For me it spoke to my mother’s years of survival despite the faltering of her heart, my father’s stalwart volunteering in the blistering engine room of a WWII Liberty Ship…the unflinching ways in which they remained vital well into their 80s.
As I pass the half-century mark, witnessing ever more alarming headlines in the news, navigating stormy economic seas as a solopreneur while contemplating the depths of a profound, evolving career change, I am seeing new levels of meaning in that simple magnet.
Never mind old age being not for the fearful – living is not for the fearful! Simply maintaining the strength to continue walking on the earth each day, throwing back the covers and getting out of bed, choosing not to numb out with shopping, pharmaceuticals or narcotics, television or computer games………
Simply staying alive. Finding a reason to choose life each day.
A day came when any conceivable reason was evading me, and I wrote to Deena Metzger – with whom I’d spent a week-long Healers’ Intensive last summer, and who has remained a profound inspiration in her deep and compassionate understanding of the spiritual and material challenges faced by our species, all beings, and the planet today…and the healing work required in response.
“Knowing what you know, experiencing what you experience with your depth of empathic attunement, how do you not despair?” I asked.
Her answer was a long time coming…a long time in which I continued reaching, stumbling, and hauling myself along, sometimes driven only by the sheer bullheaded conviction that this seemingly pointless struggle was, somehow, a self-birthing process. Maybe I was lodged in breech position and needed a turn of perspective to make the passage; maybe I was – dared I hope? – stuck at the shoulders, glimpsing the new life I sought but not yet able to emerge into it, needing one more heartbreaking “aha” to open up, one more glorious, tearing, bug-eyed, bellowing push, one sudden slippery orgasmic rush to set me free, empowered and taking up my role in the world.
Meanwhile it seemed there was little I could do beyond breathe, pray, and endure….trying to keep up the various aspects of my life in the best way I could.
Finally, Deena responded: “Because I know that Spirit exists and that some of us are being guided and so we are doing what we are called to do and that has to be sufficient. And because — I don’t want God to despair too. “
I have been contemplating her response for a month now: the assurance, the challenge (was I hearing the guidance and/or doing what I was called to do?), and – most mind-bendingly – the compassion for the Divine.
I’d heard them, all right, in my inner ear, the small senses of comfort, insight, the occasional nudges of direction, that came and passed almost too quickly to be caught. Did I seek them? Often. Did I listen? ….well….
And then there came, after a day of soul-searing headlines, the shift, in a wholly-unexpected download of insights….
The sun was just setting on a grey day. I was outside feeding my feral cat in a soft January drizzle, savoring the chilly-warm air while holding awareness of the climate change that caused it, tilting my face up to feel the raindrops while conscious of the Fukushima radiation they contained. Sensuously enjoying the moment while grieving the environmental catastrophe hidden within its softness, loving and grieving the sleepy robins twittering in the bushes, the dazed bee bumbling in search of a blossom, the pussywillows budding out of season. Aware that my own species, my own decisions, were hastening the beautiful death going on around me.
And suddenly they came, insights cascading like the rain – yes, we are slowly but surely ending this fragile beauty of life as we know it, and this is unimaginably grievous – and what hubris, to say that our species’ know-it-all arrogance is greater and more powerful than the planet, or the Divine process of ongoing creation!
The insights continued: we are among the family of embodied life forms of this planetary age; we are all mortal. There are elder species, and there have been short-lived relations; there have been mass extinctions before this, and there will be inconceivable life forms after this. Energy will take new shapes in matter; in the cosmic timeline, immanent Spirit is unendingly creative. And that is the larger picture. But never for a minute think that this devalues the irretrievable preciousness of the creatures of this passing age, this passing moment.
And the message came home: Never believe the mortality of a physical body devalues our individual role in the greater picture. Every least choice we make, every step on our path, is a part of that cosmic awareness, for good or ill. Each person, each being has a unique role to play as a physical embodiment of the Divine. The question is – how consciously do we choose to accept that connection and responsibility, with and for All That Is?
As the last light faded in the west, I stood there in the drizzle, raindrops streaming like tears down my upturned face, with all creation inviting me to step fearlessly into life.