The Wild Muse

wildness, wonder, and the spirit of place


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Hallelujah: Why Established Artists Matter to Poor Kids

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It was 1994. I sat in my grandmother’s bedroom, comprising poems on her old typewriter. The one she used for decades. It was that year I would travel to see my favorite songwriters and artists, time spent on a road that was so unfamiliar to this rural Indiana native.

That summer, I met Leonard Cohen, Henry Rollins, Tori Amos, Nick Cave, and a host of other musicians whose music kept me hopeful that there was a way. A way out.

Not only were these artists meaningful to me, they actually found meaning in what someone – a 20 year old poet – had to say. I spent hours talking over coffee, dodging chaos when opening acts like the Beastie Boys usurped Cave’s more intellectual performance, and hounding after their gifts like the young do. I even had late night calls from some of them who wondered who the hell I was to reach out in such a less-than-adoring way.

As a 20 year old, what loss could I expect from this interest in idol gazing?

There were no idols for me in the cornfields. Nothing, at that time, occurred to me to be worse than what I existed with and through.

Egoless and wonder-filled, I made contact. I rode through storms and uncertainty to meet them – people I longed to be.

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It has been years since I have bothered riding tour buses, leaving comfort at the door to follow the lead of musical and poetic influences. Years, too, since I felt that same glistening, abundant hope that I could rise up from my status and be among them.

When Cohen died, it hit me – not the death, nor his honorable welcome to its touch. What struck me is that there is so much need for beacons among us. For those who take the time to call up the ones who are forgotten, to realize our deepest fears and noblest truths.

What gets you through is not what your experience is, past or present, but that which can be…like Diane Lawrence’s artwork for Cohen’s The Future album, the heart is guided by hummingbirds or handcuffs.

I wrote recently that I no longer believed in the value of hope. I take those words back.

So, thank you, Mister Cohen and all those who took the time to make my life bearable, believable, valuable. Our stories find the light, always.

There’s a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah


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Everything Grief Demands

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“…he knew even then
he would leave us. Black trees, black vines spilling
across tarmac. The promise of disappearance,
the deepest breath.”

from Still Life with Damnosa Hereditas and Dark Constellations, Sandra Meek

I lost my father two weeks ago at the age of 62. It was unexpected and left my siblings and me reeling, trying to grapple with the reality of the sudden death.

Bargaining is of course one of the most predictable stages of grief, but I couldn’t help but want to strike a deal with the universe. My dad had finally started to come into himself, to soften, to connect with loved ones and the life he wished he had led.

I am sad and sorry he didn’t get to backpack the Uinta Mountains again or make that promised road trip to the West.

The author Haruki Marakami said, “In a sense our lives are nothing more than a series of stages to help use get used to loneliness.” I think that is one of the truest statements on what aging feels like, and I have felt the impact of this unavoidable progression since I was young.

The longer one lives, the more acutely intimate she is with the ultimate truth of life, its essential aloneness. When we lose others we are reminded of the final and most important act of aloneness, dying.

In that, I hope those who die young are spared some of the ache of loneliness. Some folks don’t take to it well, and my dad wouldn’t have been one who did.

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Until You Fall

When people I love die, I dream of them falling. I never know where they are falling to, or into, or out of…but they fall. I try to catch them. They sometimes beg me to, but I cannot.

When they look at me, begging and falling…all I can do is watch.

I think death, or at least the initial departure, must feel like falling through unseen territory. Some welcome the fall, relieved to be weightless and free, some struggle. Maybe they always secretly preferred the earth to the sky.

I am certain I would be one to struggle. The ocean frightens me with its overwhelming and infinite waves – and the thought of free-falling through air is terrifying – nothing like angels or birds with their soft promise, just a dull stone hurdling into darkness.

I have always been an earth beneath my feet woman. Dry earth, rock, root, flesh and bone…things to cling to…none of this ethereal business. You can keep your heavens and waterworlds.

The Thing About Walking

I got up at twilight and headed out on one of my favorite trails, right in the heart of the city. It runs through a corridor of the North Mountains and creates a sense of wildness – even in an epicenter of 4 million.

Walking is myimg_3076 way of coping with hard times. Movement is my therapy, particularly when I am stuck in anger, and I have been angry since my father died. Some reasons are personal; some are sadly becoming more universal.

You see, my dad stopped taking his medications because he couldn’t afford them. He worked in public service for years, but retired without a pension or any savings. He opted for paying his bills over taking care of his health. To think of this makes me enraged. No one should be forced to choose debt over their health.

My rage, in part, is that I find myself in a similar situation: how can I afford insurance; how can I NOT afford insurance? People who work very hard all of their lives end up penniless and desperate. This happens all of the time and no one likes to think of it unless it comes down like a fist upon them.

I pondered these injustices up on that ridge. During this time, I watched as a bulldozer edged the semi-wild, yet most precious terrain, heralding another new housing development.

It is so like us to be plowed under, obedient…

Being here, among city sprawl and the busy lives of busy people, I am reminded of the land around me and all that has been lost…all that modernity has buried.

This culture has bulldozed its apathy upon us. And it is only when our own heart is breaking and the anger demands answers, do we feel the scrape of the blade cactus face (1 of 1) and grieve for everything that has been lost.

Into Another Life

That was not the story I wanted to write. I am tired of writing about poverty and death, the loss of land and clean water, the indignity of making the “lesser of evils” choices.

I would rather tell a story of women washing auburn hair in a cold creek, or one of children with full bellies and the ability to sleep peacefully; of firefly illumined fields and hollows.

But, I am not a believer of fate. Any wreck you pass, there was a cause and an effect. The stars do not conspire against your happiness any more than mine.

While this anger hastens, it is the story I write – it is what I must walk and sing and offer up. That is the burden and release of grief, to bring us down to the last ember.


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Red Fire Days: Autumn in Pivot Rock Canyon

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As an October baby, I have always loved autumn.  Growing up in Southern Indiana, with its poplar, redbud, walnut, and dogwood tree-covered hills, I naturally seek out places in Arizona similarly rich with plant diversity, and especially this time of year.

For those of us living in the desert, it’s necessary to adjust the senses for less garish autumnal finery. Those gilded colors I came to expect in October are hidden in washes and dry creek beds… with the remnant deaths of monsoon wildflowers, strewn against sand and cobble. The drift of fallen sunflowers and wine-hued amaranth fills the roadside ditches. And, the unexpected glance out toward the Estrella Mountains, where the wide Gila flood plains curve under the trunks of gold-trimmed Cottonwoods, conjures up nostalgia.

But, yesterday I needed the symbolic autumn of my youth, the overt heralding of change. Yesterday, I needed canyons.

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So, a friend and I set out to explore one of myriad canyons of the Mogollon Rim, a massive escarpment of limestone and sandstone that defines the southernmost edge of the Colorado Plateau. This is an area rife with deep canyons that spider out and create enormous gorges. The views are so easily lost to bewilderment. With its maze of ponderosa pine and rock, the imagination ponders how easy it would be to descend into one of those unnamed canyons and never be found again.

Our hike, however, led us to one canyon in particular… small in scope and challenge, Pivot Rock Canyon was the perfect choice.

Not really in the mood for thrills and chills, I sought a hike that would allow time for contemplating, tree-gazing, adorning the hair in yellowing oak and scarlet wild geranium leaves and burnt orange fern tendrils. The pace of this hike: easy-going… I’d find its description online, “…good for kids and dogs.” It is a daydreamer’s place, a small, wet capillary in the pulse of an otherwise dry pine body.

Starting out on an old jeep trail, we meandered through a natural park… there, some of the oaks and walnuts had begun to change their hues and a few hallowed aspens danced in pale yellow. The ground was wet from the evening’s rainstorm… the air smelled of fungi, decaying leaves, pine resin… and it was HEAVENLY.

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With my eyes fixed on the canopy above, I could have remained – lost for hours, just lying on a blanket spread on the musty, rich earth, breathing in the leaf-rot as if it could be the finest, most sensory-stimulating perfume.

Felled trees arched trunks and broken branches, downward… everything moved in the direction of slope and cliff, boulder and ridge. I, too, felt as though I had succumbed to the fall. A fall.

It is true. I had taken a rather hard fall recently, one that shook the roots and left me feeling like the only direction would be down with the drift, the torrent of summer storms, bashed and bruised – as any living thing – an instrument of greater change.

In autumn, the earth wears its mask of jewels. The harvest is a time of celebration, but only because we know what is around the forest bend – the dark nights that are closed to growth, the severe “Do not disturb,” the fin of the final reel. It doesn’t matter what yesterday’s intention was. It matters not what was felt. Now is the time we near ourselves to the ticking of choice. Accept or not. That is the inevitability of ends.

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Looking out across a meadow park, my friend and I come upon a stand of massive oaks and the last of the season’s mullein. The quickening wind moves between thoughts and occasional words. It’s important to hike with those whose need for silence matches your own.

At the end of the canyon, the remnants of an old concrete cistern attest to a once active spring. Above us, the faint hum of motorists along Highway 87 snake their way between destinations. This was not to be a long journey. The canyon, though tangled and wild, ends abruptly after a few miles, joining up with its sister canyons along the splintered map of the plateau’s vast rise.

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Canyons have a way of leading us along one adventure, only to dash our hopes with a sudden wall of tumbled rocks, then forcing us along on a different course. The dictates of its severe angles, weather patterns, movement of water…  There is a beginning and end. There are lost trails, twisted ankles, water too deep to avoid.

But, this journey was forgiving and I made peace with the hopeful wishes of being human, of falling against those hard edges and angles I was not prepared to meet. I breathed it all in. I took a last look at the shivering leaves, still beautiful beneath the afternoon sun.


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Transition Zones

Deer at night, Jocelyn Lee

Deer at night, Jocelyn Lee

At 1 a.m., the forest is silent except for a nighthawk calling out to an unknown recipient. I turn on my lamp and listen to my dog’s sleeping breath. A captured bark beetle tries to escape my tent, so I unzip the front mesh. I crawl out with him. There are a few visible stars laced between clouds and the coniferous forest canopy. I crouch down and listen for movement. In the distance, a branch cracks. Even though I am unafraid of the dark, the hairs on my arms and the back of my neck rise. It’s a visceral response for our kind, with such poor night skills and carnivore wisdom.

In the morning, we find mountain lion tracks in fresh mud. The monsoon rains have rolled in across the limestone, across the sandstone escarpment, and through the canyons thick with pine. It is hard to distinguish forest floor from gorge. Alongside these prints are several small hooves, the presence of deer gathered near the mouth of the spring. I listen closely, but it is now morning and I am left with only evidence. The lion is long gone. She won’t stay close to the road, with its morning rush of ATVs and trucks loaded with anxious boys and their guns. The deer girls are scattered across the hills, perhaps missing a fella or fawn. I’ll have to be content with my journal and notes, and imagination.

The following night unfolds in a similar orchestra. The mountains create an illusion of silence, of stilled activity. My city ears haven’t adjusted to their music. I strain to hear the slightest conversation between cicadas – or the complaints of skunks meandering through our make-shift comforts. At 1 a.m., that magic hour, a single coyote opens the night with her bloodied ballad for the crescent moon, for her mates – just one coyote singing solo, waiting for response. I can finally sleep.

The next morning, we find more tracks and, beside the picnic table, a  dead junco – in perfect form, as if it had been gently placed on the ground by some benevolent force – small mercies for tender prey.

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It’s 10 p.m. in Phoenix. The towers lean over the backyard as I wait for my dog to pee. The July storms tease with their dust clouds. I say a silent prayer for the storms to finally move through. Next door, in an empty lot, a group of homeless men light a fire in an abandoned porch. Cops circle. Helicopters take critical cases to the hospital on Thomas. No matter what I do with white noise, drugs, deep sleep, meditation, the noise never ceases. I strain to find the silence between adagios. I wait for the rain to drive back the life; to quell whatever bravado lives beneath the desperate walls and hungry bellies.

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I met a guy who swore he’d seen a wolf in the Prescott National Forest. I knew what he’d likely seen was a large coyote. He showed me a picture of a coyote. Instead of telling him the truth, I just nodded and asked him what he thought of it. Naturally, it changed my life, he said, emphasizing naturally.

Another friend claimed her spirit is that of a fox. She has collage of photos of various foxes above her bed: kit fox, red fox, grey fox, and an odd interloper of an Arctic fox, her cool white fur moving invisible with the Ontario snow.

Above my desk, I, too, have an image of a fox. A desert kit fox I saw while gazing at the spirals and dancing bighorns etched onto rock panels a few thousand years ago. The fox appeared as I was about to embark on a long drive across the Colorado desert of Southern California. It was already 95 degrees at 9 a.m.. The air snapped with its own fury.

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On the Mogollon Rim, the surrounding mountains appear as a tintype, a patina. The view of ridges and monsoon clouds frame everything in a dripping emerald and smoke-grey. I walk with my dog out to the edge and find a burnt tree stump to sit on. The landscape has been singed – recently, perhaps a few years ago. Fire rings polka-dot the grasses. Crushed, faded Bud Light cans form an odd little narrative to the pilgrims who come here to escape the heat, caring little for the place itself, or the thousand year old stone flakes marking other arrivals and departures.

These days my mind is equally singed –  scarred with too many worries about paying bills and finding a home. It makes no sense to consider these things here. Fatalism settles into my bones. Two years of chronic worry about the why of things, but I am no closer to knowing. Two years of death, loss, situations that burned everything down to bare sinew and nerve. Being here, I ask myself if I am willing. Will I set more years to blaze? Years that will be no more meaningful than a bird falling sudden on the soft dirt floor.

Over the side of the escarpment, a crow is being chased by a stormtroupe of swallows. His protests meet the distant thunder.


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Reframing Belief and Prosperity

 

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I am standing on a rhyolite cliff looking at a fresh pile of bear dung. Not a pretty way to start a story, I know, but this is where it begins. It’s 8am and the sun has started to burn away the clouds that line the canyons and valleys below. A lone Steller’s Jay decides to announce his presence, then his displeasure with mine. His streak of black-tipped feathers against a strikingly cobalt body remind me of clubs in Toronto where hair and body never quite took on the proper colors and textures. I bend down to survey the pile before me… the bear must have been here within the last hour. It’s not that ominous a scene, however. The Sierra Ancha mountain range is full of black bears, deer, mountain lions and other woodland mammals. Although I have never actually seen a bear here, I have seen their tracks, their scat and their tell-tale scratch marks. It’s an honest place to be.

For three hours, I sat in my tent looking at a deluge that washed over the ridge. There wasn’t much to do in those moments but kick back, read or think. In this case, I opted for the latter. Looking out on damp pine needles, my mind wandered to the themes that are most pressing in my life. Those themes that keep me up at night in the city, but are soon diminished in the cold, damp and windy confines of these high cliffs. It isn’t like they disappear entirely… no, but they don’t suffocate me. They are like the damp pine needles. I just see them and notice their presence. For the past two years, I have felt a building ache in my heart. It started as a married woman. I had dreams of escaping the city with my partner, reluctant dreams. Now, as I am – alone and in flux – I want to do things that I have never before attempted to do.

For one, I am done trying to live my life by anyone’s measuring stick – friend, companion or otherwise. I am also done carrying secrets – mine or any else’s. I do not wish to control or judge; I simply want to be free to live as honestly as I can. I understand that I will lose friends over this. I know it will be uncomfortable for some to accept what I am about to embark upon. Frankly, I am old enough to know it isn’t passive-aggression or rebellious behavior. I just decided I am tired of being a part of an assembly line lifestyle I don’t and never did want.

None of these statements are particularly revolutionary. Many more choose the off grid or simple life: activists, Buddhists, seekers, iconoclasts, etc.. For some reason, though, I have found it difficult to find those who relate to my vision. I meet many people who are on a spiritual path or a path to recovery or healing, yet they still seek the same societal end-means that the rest seek. I am not a believer in the Promise. I do believe that our thoughts impact our perceptions and experiences, and possibly even our outcomes, if external factors align and we are blessed to reside in a country and time that upholds these principles. I still believe in work, direction, movement and animal truth.

This brings me to prosperity. One of the pinnacle reasons I avoid “abundance” as a movement is that it is rooted in the outward rather than how one feels and the quality of experience and character. Plenty of people buy into the idea that if they “positive think” everything, they will be gifted material rewards – usually in the form of entrepreneurial endeavors or independence from wage slavery. The focus is on the monetary compensation that will arrive if they magic-think it so. Abundance thinking has never been outlaw thinking. If anything, it upholds the systems that demand us to believe poor people or those who have experienced hardship haven’t opened up to the power of the universe or simply have a bad attitude. It does not question why some people acquire yet abuse their possessions and power. It also is nation-centric in that the basic premise is that an individual naturally is equipped with a wide variety of choices. It ignores famine, captivity, disease, oppression, slavery and war. By logical deduction, if blessings are created by positive thoughts than hardships must be equated with negative thoughts. If one has control over prosperity than one must also have mastery over poverty. Hmm… sounds like familiar rhetoric, doesn’t it?

One of the reasons I love being in wild places is how it brings me down to the most basic element of being alive: I want to bJuly13dump 319e alive. If I believe I am the most powerful animal in the forest and go about my delusion foolishly, I may get injured or die. It doesn’t matter how much I believe I am the master of my universe, or that Christ or some other deity will protect me; life soon finds a way to subterfuge my beliefs with a mortality wheel I have no means of stopping. In this state of utter surrender, one can be truly prosperous and totally authentic. By understanding the limits of my beliefs and ideas, feelings and thoughts, I can work within a larger framework that includes everything around me: other life, stone, earth, stories. In including everything around me as abundance, I also embrace death and disease, the occasional let-down, loss and missed opportunity.

One of the most fundamental ways of cultivating abundance is through connection. My desire to disengage in the “game of getting ahead” is largely informed by a very human desire to connect. Being a part of a career puts me in isolated odds, whereas serving the community relates to the larger whole. Abundance, ultimately, is rooted in contentment and happiness, comfort and safety. False ideologies will have us believe these can be attained through competition and cultivating our authentic selves. But what are we without others?

Whether we shroud ourselves in an illusion of isolation and self-sufficiency or we desperately seek validation from others, we are still suffering from the same malady to validate our time here on earth. But the most basic beauty is that we all are alive and a part of this life. Just by going outside and noticing the plants and animals in our yard, we can understand that our goals are just as basic as the those of birds and the plants. We are a part of the whole of this dying process, despite our thinking lives, and are here for a very short time. It really doesn’t matter what we believe. The reality is, we are not that unique. Our creature sense wants the same basic things: warmth, food, shelter, the softness of other animals.

What is comes down to is making peace with a lack of control and uniqueness. Imagine the possibilities of being with rather than against. What would our lives feel like if we were more communal than opposing? If we walked among the trees and moss and felt no need to stand apart.

Life is fragile; our own lives are rife with threat and potential. Maybe there is less to do than we think. Maybe sitting on the edge of a cliff and watching the sun rise is a fine way to live. Let us embrace our commonalities and know abundance lives in the place where understanding meets fearlessness, where enough is good, really good.


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The End: Honoring Death, Pain, Disease and Decay

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Over the past year, I have been faced with some disheartening news about my cat Freckles, my sole consistent companion since I was in college. He was diagnosed with kidney disease and has been relatively healthy up until about a month ago. Since then, I have watched him lose weight, his coat become oily and unkempt and his insistence upon water out of a dripping faucet much more physical in urgency. Most days, he sleeps in the bathtub, possibly to be closer to water and the promise thereof.

While he continues to eat and enjoy attention, I see his movement toward the inevitable end and have found myself avoiding talking or thinking about it. Being such a vet-phobic and nervous kitty, frequent trips to the clinic produce additional stress on his compromised system and result in him not eating for a day, staying well hidden until he realizes I am not taking him anywhere again. At 16 years, he has aged into the upper level of life expectancy – a senior boy who has had a great life. So why is it so hard to accept his mortality?

While the veterinarian continues to recommend IV therapy, it is costly and would add more stress on Freckles, who is otherwise still purring and getting around. Yes, it might buy him a few more months, weeks or days, but for whom? I wonder if our insistence on extending the lifespan of our pets, despite their pain and lack of quality of life, is simply a reflection of our intense fear of death and decay, of loneliness and release.

Pain is a necessary aspect of being alive. While spending billions every year on prescribed pain and mood management drugs, cosmetics, legal and illegal mind-altering substances, surgeries and other therapies, we have lost touch with the necessity of being aware of our body and our health. I am not advocating for a return to the pre-anesthesia medical model or denying ourselves the treatment of diseases; however, I am advocating that a little bit of pain during emotional hurt, loss and the disease and death process is actually good for us and for those witness to these processes.

Without pain and discomfort, we lose the opportunity to strengthen sinew and spirit. We lose our evolutionary advantage of adaptability. We weaken ourselves mentally because we become used to being in a maintained “false state” where we are not under any sort of perceived threat, even though we are, of course, really susceptible to our own demise. This delusion of mastery over age, health and life is carefully managed through our current medical and behavioral health models.

When we hurt, naturally we want to take action to remove or relieve the cause of hurt. We learn something about our physical being, our surroundings and the threat that caused the hurt. We may internalize this as a lesson and avoid such situations in the future. We may even pass something on to our children, resulting in the next generation acquiring more information for survival. We gain an understanding of what we like and what feels good by these elements being juxtaposed against what we do not like, what is dangerous or what feels bad.la loba

By synthesizing pleasure and anesthetizing pain, how far will we go to strike a perpetual state of feeling good? And, will our willingness to adapt, grow and act as our own teacher and advocate against those who are managing our pleasure and pain states wane? As animals, we function best when we are fully engaged in controlling our bodies, minds and emotions. When we subvert our survival instincts – if by only even minute levels – we allow the state and corporations to take away our right to experience and express pain through illness, disease, aging and death.

Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional… er, sorry – also inevitable.

In most Eastern religions, suffering is seen as something akin to the human condition. Even the sages and bodhisattvas experience some suffering. Through meditation and study, reducing our human tendency to form attachments and expectations encourages a reduction in the frequency in and severity of suffering. Generally speaking, suffering is perceived as a given state of being aware of and in resistance to a life that will most certainly end.

Suffering can be a part of the human experience that enhances our life – after all, if we did not greatly grieve the loss of a loved one, how might our depth of love be altered? Is the fact of finality not an aspect of intense love, pleasure, communion and affection that allows us to have these feelings?

I was raised in a Baptist church and as a child I recall being intensely frightened of the idea that when I died, I would go to Heaven – you know, Paradise – where I would live FOREVER. I remember thinking about the enormity of what would never end, what would be an unending amount of time, drifting in an Elysian Field never to arrive at any destination – just eternally blissed out. That scared the hell out of me! How can something never end, I thought. It went against what my body knew as truth. How boring, to live forever in the same state. I like an ending to anything, even orgasmic rapture. I consider that child, so afraid of manufactured happiness, to hold the key.

If we are always avoiding pain, nullifying our aches and using any means (including enlightenment) to subdue the reality of our demise, what will we miss as individuals, families and societies? Where will our rites go, and how will we recognize a life well lived  if there is a struggle to maintain a baseline of absolute balance?

Dying is painful. The body decays and then shuts down, but not without discomfort. Is this an abhorrent thought? Learning to let go to the transition of any loss and fully experience that ache is the fulfillment of the life cycle. Even if we personally seek to avoid pain, what are we denying our peers to witness, honor and move through to cultivate their own wisdom and understanding?

The bodies of the ill are sequestered away in institutions where we sterilize and anesthetize. While machines hum and bland art hangs on ultra-white walls – where everyone speaks in hushed tones with serious looks and padded shoes, we fall to sickness and death. When we die, we are dressed in suits we loathed to wear in life, made up with rouge that would offend Dolly Parton and are propivped in silk, posed like some fly pinned beneath glass. When my grandfather died, I thought he looked like a stranger. Where was the garden dirt, the disheveled hair, and why did he smell like baby powder and not tobacco and sweat? This was a man of the earth, not the air, to be pomp and pretense. This was a very real man, not to be belittled and made into some digestible piece of fiction. He died, and we gathered in denial of what is so difficult for the living to accept.

Life is alive on the nerve endings, on the shallow breath of  fight or flight and the mating call and mourning song. Being fully aware is frightening. A broken limb or a gash to the skin, and we cannot escape our body-limitations. Pain can be a teacher. Pain makes us soft to the hearts of others, aware of our own sweetness and fragility. In addiction, watch how that light dims. The addict is a perfect example of pain avoidance. We penalize the addict for doing the very thing we want to do: anesthetize.

My old cat may be in pain. He still holds a fire in his eyes, a curiosity and enjoyment of sitting by the window watching birds. To deny him his life / death process would be vanity and selfishness. It hurts to watch our loved ones transition and experience pain, but pain is in itself not bad. I have watched animals take their last few breaths, with broken bones along desolate, winter highways. Still, there was nothing in them that said they’d prefer to be dead before that last breath was ready to leave them. As living creatures, we want to live. Mercy killing is insulting and unjust. Life leaves the body when it is ready. We spare others and ourselves the experience of transition and a reverence for the dying process by intervening prematurely.

The last time I visited Indiana, I spent some time talking to my grandfather and other ancestors at their grave sites near a beautiful cornfield lined by oak trees. In my hand, I held the written prayers of wind, dirt and laughter – seeds I threw into the June windstorm. I know their transitions – some of them painful, some of them prolonged – were beautiful aspects of their life narratives. Their endings, the way they transitioned and even the diseases that facilitated the end to their lives, all comprised the next generation and what we have to learn – to struggle against – and to embrace. Ultimately, I live the song of suffering as much as the song of happiness. I wish no less for you.


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Live Each Moment…

 

 

Perhaps it is the two-day stomach flu bug that brings to mind mortality? Whatever the cue, I have been thinking about the cliché expression, “Live each moment as if it were your last” and realizing the absurdity and glibness inherent in this concept.

If I were to live each moment like it was my last, what would I do? I can start by telling you what I wouldn’t do:

  1. sit in an office
  2. listen to people I think are full of crap
  3. pick up dog poop
  4. pay bills
  5. feel obligated
  6. drive the speed limit
  7. worry
  8. argue

The list goes on and on. If it were my last – very last – moment, I would probably spend it somewhere under a canopy of cottonwood trees with people I love. Now, before you tell me I am being too literal, I point to the obvious number of references to “last moments on earth” with movies like the Bucket List and songs – sad, country saccharine songs – such as Live Like You Were Dying. Both follow the same conclusion that – given each moment was akin to our last – we would do the extreme, adrenaline-rush stuff we normally shy away from but secretly fantasize about. And, we do fantasize about final days in the arms of secret lovers, pirates, pilots and poets (consider the millions of dollars we spend on these themes)… Or we fantasize about being in those roles: of power, of intrigue, of mystery.

Maybe therein lies the crux of this quandary: Fantasy.

I once read a wonderful quote by a German author (whose name escapes me) that goes something like, “Before we can change the nature of our reality, we must change the nature of our fantasies.” I read this quote back when I lived out most of my fantasies in a reckless cacophony of bar music and road trip soundtracks. I did not live for much more. I had experienced life devoid of happiness, and with the most modest flicker of hope, and I was more than intent to live each moment FULLY and completely. But, I wasn’t happy, and I am not sure those moments – while sensual, reckless, or adrenaline-rich – were meaningful, other than in the life lessons they provided. My fantasy of happiness was a myth made in the lonely room of a lonely young woman. I had no basis of how to live the moment. I lived a fantasy day, a mirage on the sands of my twenties. My moments were blurred out, distinguished only by passing time.

I now am 38. I have bills, responsibilities, a job, a husband… a yard from which to pick up dog poop and lots of people to listen to, for whom I have little interest or respect. These annoying burdens in life seem to be experienced by all of us who decide to live something more than our own fleeting mirage of fantasy freedom. Of course, it is not all dreary and not all jobs are created with the capitalist system in mind… better than a job; some have a place, a purpose. With these responsibilities come the rewards, or outcomes. A house and yard, or a yurt, or a caravan will provide a nest, a place to raise kids or animals, and give shelter to a family of people who gather there. A spouse becomes one’s dearest, most cherished friend and ally. A job – like my own – can become a source of connection to other missions, people and concepts. Purpose provides the means by which we navigate our role in the world. But it isn’t fantastic, and it isn’t always something we would choose to do in our final hours.

More than fantasy and adventure, and more than structure and function, we simply need the space and willingness to be. How many of us ever, when asked, “What are you doing?” respond with a heartfelt, confident: “Nothing.” We suffer from an addiction to function and purpose, and when not engaged in function and purpose, we are defining our function and purpose either through colloquial dialog or in some mental health / pop psychological way.

So in the last moments… how would I be? What would I want?

There is no answer to that question, of course. The reality is most of us spend a lifetime being busy and, when we reach a point of sickness or very old age, we simply do what we have been doing all along, what we know, what we find comfort in doing until we can no longer do it. Then we go. I will no doubt do the same.

If there’s a soundtrack for this path of least resistance, I think it would be understated, modest and beautiful. The memory of a child’s voice, the sound of oak leaves moving under a slow, spring wind, the breath of our beloved dog at the foot of the bed, crickets near a lake, piano practice, the one we love making coffee. This is the music of moment. This is the way we live them out, one by one, each moment, until we are done.