“Where are we going? Do not ask! Ascend, descend. There is no beginning and no end. Only this present moment exists, full of bitterness, full of sweetness, and I rejoice in it all.”~Nikos Kazantzakis – The Saviors of God
I am feeling so deeply blessed to be alive in the middle of this lifetime. How many tens of thousands of direct ancestors of mine had to toil, struggle, endure and love in order to bring this existence of mine into being, infused with such deep appreciation. Yet this is difficult terrain to traverse – writing about the blessings and the preciousness of a life juxtaposed with our struggles for racial equality, people suffering from the COVID pandemic and the reality that so many on this earth have minimal opportunity to live lives fully enabled to recognize and cherish that preciousness.
I believe that what I write here has merit, yet it is a privileged perspective which has the ease from which to express these thoughts. Whether it be from discrimination, incarceration, poverty, oppression, war, forced servitude, mental health issues, disability or from the overwhelming everyday challenges to simple survival, it can be much more difficult for many among us to come into direct experiential contact with the blessedness of this life. This awareness of these struggles seems to underscore the sense of blessedness I have. The more rare something is, the more dear it becomes and the more a holy sense of reverence seems to naturally arise.
I feel so blessed in many ways because I’ve come to a place in life where I’m much better at taking things in stride. I do my best to be clear and true with whatever life presents. I don’t fight much with reality any more. Work to change the outside world and my inner world for the better? Definitely. Quarrel with reality as it is? Not so much. And just to be clear, just because I don’t fight so much with reality doesn’t mean an acceptance that things aren’t worth changing.
No matter how much we may think we can control the outside world, life simply unfolds as it does. In the process all we can do is to do our best to align ourselves with the flow of existence, and make the most of the opportunities we have. Opportunities to work toward justice and change in the world, opportunities to be of service, opportunities to create, opportunities to grow, opportunities to experience the joys and pleasures of life, opportunities to love are truly here only for a limited time, and then at some point they’re gone.
Kinda just like that.
And not only opportunities, but life itself is here and then it’s gone. One wrong turn, one dire diagnosis, one unforeseen accident and it can all be over. Even if by some unseen grace we are able to dodge these obstacles, our lives do naturally draw to a close. One of my recent ancestors, my grandfather Max, lived to be 97, but he’d be over 120 years old were he alive today. That kind of longevity just doesn’t happen with humans. The years of our lives are finite. No matter how hard we may wish it were otherwise, what we have and what we are will come to an end, yet we so often treat our time, our precious life energy as if it emerges endlessly from a mountain spring.
This is the earnest work. Each of us is given only so many mornings to do it – to look around and love.Mary Oliver
I’m touched at this time too because I’ve been spending time with family including my brothers, both of whom have been struggling with health issues. My brother Jeff has been declining. Such a kind and dear man he is. Even with his current limited capacities he strikes me as content and grateful. We sat together on his deck in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan overlooking the beautiful Menomonie River the other day for about five hours. Just sitting there. It was a day he wasn’t talking much, other than an occasional word at a time. I played guitar and sang for him and he occasionally bobbed his head in time to the music. The love between us is so very simple and genuine. It was one of those perfect kind of days, where time doesn’t matter and simply being is all that is required.
About 8 months ago, I asked my father some questions about sailing and told him it was crossing my mind to get a sailboat someday. He and his wife spent many beautiful years cobbling together a living on a sailboat while celebrating their lives with the freedoms that the merging of breeze, love, canvas and keel provides. He mentioned my van and said something interesting: “You can always go ‘vanning’ when you get older, but you can’t always go sailing.” And he’s right. As we age, our physical capacities become less. Along with that comes a decreased ability to pursue dreams that require stronger physical capacities. I mention this simply to say that this “precious life energy” I am referring to is something fleeting. It’s not just the lifetime we are granted, but the vibrancy of capacity within it which is also limited and fleeting.
In addition, future generations may very well inherit a planet so polluted and overheated that basic survival, let alone enjoyment, may be of great challenge or well-nigh impossible. If the Coronavirus has taught us anything, it should be that everything we know to be true can change in an instant. Not only is there a preciousness of energy/capacity/time in our own lives, but the same can be said for the energy/capacity/time of the earth and it’s ability to sustain the preciousness of human and other life forms that exist.
And so here we are, smack dab in the centers of our own lives. While civilization (can we really use that word any more?) may well be painting itself into the corner of it’s own demise, perhaps that recognition can offer all the more reason to try to find the beauty which is here right now. Remember, the tea cup you may cherish is already broken, it just hasn’t been dropped yet. Perhaps we can bring the teacup of our lives to our lips to sip with true appreciation whatever blessings and preciousness we may have while they’re still here.