Disasters befalling one acquaintance and another. No shortage of reminders of how uncertain everything is, always. How constantly subject to change all that appears to be stable.
A friend’s home consumed by flame, the structure and all its contents: a lifetime of music, of writing; beloved four-legged companions. Another friend’s young granddaughter, so recently vividly alive, now abruptly not. A long-ago retreat organizer on a bike, meeting up with a truck. Just like that, silence.
The nothing that we know, constantly. Life seems to have its way with us. So little of it of our devising, controlling, never mind remotely anticipating. Random, unpredictable life, always with the upper hand. What could be more humbling?
Or more terrifying, some would say. Radically unnerving, if you really look it in the face.
Life cannot be postponed, or held at bay. At least, not without great cost. Dear, grievous cost.
Unless you relax into it. In the deep absence of effort (resistance, the panicky attempt to avoid, protect), a door opens onto what we do know, what is certain: the now. Right now, just the way it is. The immediate scene, ourselves in it.
Reveling comes alive. A savoring stillness. It’s brief though. Oh yes, this now is a fleeting, wispy creature. Look away and it’s gone. Like the blood-red line across the new-day horizon, just now seen. Engaged with: first eyes, then heart. But look away, some fleeting distraction? Look back: it’s gone. Mere memory.
The heart that knows it could lose any time now does not avert its eyes. It lingers. It opens, and all the way. Because some awareness around the edges knows that this cannot be held on to. Or postponed. Like water in a stream bed, life is on the move, always.
Oh, but what about the risk involved? For when the heart does not wall itself off from cherishing, doesn’t it then become subject to more terrible grief, when life removes the beloved person, thing? But that grief is nothing to the sorrow of having failed to really live. To love.
Life cannot be postponed, or held at bay. At least, not without great cost. Dear, grievous cost. When the near-to-last breath has come, the wash of regret. Grief at all the missed life. The unlived nows.
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I am not going to inflict that on myself. And does that mean when the time comes for the unspooling of the remaining few intakes of sweet, sweet air — does that mean I won’t be sorry to go? Oh no, I don’t think it means that. For the more I love the now of this life, the more I’m really here for it, the deeper goes the cherishing. And oh, the gratitude! Of course I will be sorry to let it all go.
But when the time comes, will I say I didn’t get enough? I doubt it. Only that I imagine I would have been glad to have more. Greedy one that I am. Knowing that more life includes more uncertainty and loss doesn’t make me want it to end.
My friend whose house and all the life within was turned to ash and rubble — did it all come to me, in the winter days after that, as I tucked in my own little house, wood-heated, and went out to get in the car to go someplace? When I lingered over the gray smoke curling up from the chimney, did it come to me what a fine line separates life-sustaining fire from the destructive sort? Did I remember once again that my house too could be fried and curled into wreckage? Do I have any illusion that if I just take care enough this will not befall me and my little, fragile life?
And when I’ve rolled back up the driveway to see the dwelling still stands, unruined, am I grateful, once more aware that it could have been otherwise, and one day may well be?
Meanwhile, during the interval of being elsewhere, have I fretted about what might be happening in my absence? But when elsewhere is happening, that’s where I am. Truly am. That’s what’s real.
And then that’s gone. Some other present moment. Everything in constant motion, each doing undone, just like that. Yet each moment so very still, so very alive-feeling. The only real thing.
Somehow a whole life goes by that way. Then it stops. Just like that. Seldom foreseen.Jan Frazier