Not only that, but now there are a fair number of people in their seventies in my life – my parents included – and I cringe at the thought of such platitudes. Last year, I watched my mother-in-law’s life come to an end at the age of seventy-one. No one was saying, “at least she had a nice, long life.” The truth was, she had a lot more living that she wanted to do. But her body had given it’s all.
In the hustle and bustle of mid-life, I often notice a sense of just putting one foot in front of the other, trying to keep track of everyone’s needs and schedules and simply doing enough to keep up with the essentials – food and laundry and work commitments. I tell myself, “If I can just get through this week, next week will be less crazy.” The problem is, this busy week turns into the next busy week and so on…
I feel haunted by Annie Dillard’s reminder that “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
I don’t want to spend my life juggling three kids’ activities, dinner schedules and dirty laundry. I don’t want to spend my life arguing about screen time or what is an appropriate temperature to put on a jacket. I know that things will change in time, and my days of nagging and running around will be behind me soon enough. And I might even find myself looking back longingly at these times.
And therein lies the trap. To long for what is not here. To keep ourselves out of the present moment by focusing on the past (whether wistfully or with regret) or by imagining the future (whether hopefully or with fear).
I am guilty of this on a regular basis. I tend to be future-focused and am usually busy skipping ahead - imagining what five years will bring, where my kids will be in ten years, whether I’ll have grandchildren some day and where else we’ll decide to live along the way. And that’s when the “what’s possible” reel of the future is on in my head. There is also a “worrisome” reel of all the more scary possibilities that could await down the road.
Funny how we will grab hold of the fear of the “what if’s,” so that we don’t have to deal with the most uncomfortable truths. The most uncomfortable truth – as I heard David Whyte articulate it at a conference I attended – that we will have to say goodbye to every single person in our lives, one way or another.
The uncomfortable and unavoidable truth of death - be it one’s own death or the death of our loved ones. The fear of that truth keeps us hopping, skipping, jumping into distraction and clinging to more manageable worries.
Cultivating presence doesn’t release us from the inevitability of death. But in stopping to notice our fear, by naming it, we are released from it’s control in the moment. With that awareness, fear loosens its grip and we can breathe more deeply, find more space for beautiful questions, such as, “What is important here?” and “What deeply matters in this moment?”
These questions urge us in the direction of our centers. They challenge us to let the trappings of material living fall away. They call us to our best selves. And they release us into the beauty of the present moment, even when suffering is at hand.
When I can be present, I notice the hungry and engaging faces of my children across the dinner table, and I am not worried about the dishes piled up in the sink. When I can be present, I notice the look of delight and satisfaction on my daughter’s face at the end of play practice, and I am not worried about having time to get gas on our way to pick up her brother.
When I can be present, I notice the twinge of sadness as I come across my mother-in-laws half-finished knitting project. I also notice the edges of a smile as I remember her delight in the colors of the yarn.
Do people over seventy feel ready to die simply because they have been around longer? I suspect not. Have they had more practice at saying good-bye to their loved ones? I suppose so. Age offers wisdom and experience and yet the question remains the same:
What deeply matters in this moment?
I will be presumptuous and suggest an answer:
you are loved just as you are,
the world is blessed by your presence.
We can choose love and presence at any age.
Why not start with this moment?
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