"April is the cruelest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain."
- T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land
Spring rains accompanied ceremonies of grieving and celebration. The month began with a fire ceremony marking the passing of one friend ...
and ended at our city's botanical center with a memorial for our neighbors whose unexpected deaths while on vacation has me stumbling pass their house in continual confusion and disbelief. Witnessing the rawness of grief in their daughter's eyes has stirred up emotions that had settled to the bottom of my own heart. Each new drop of sorrow and loss is added to a swelling pool: my mother, my aunt, my friend, my neighbors ... the list swells backwards and forwards.
I suppose that is how it is in middle age. The longer my tenure here, the more I will have to say goodbye. It is the balance to so many hellos. What has become apparent to me with the loss of my neighbors is the urgency to making each hello count. At their memorial service I was made aware that I really hardly knew them. I mean, we would often meet while walking our dogs and talk of neighborly things: the dogs, the weather, our gardens. A little residents gossip and updating on local events. We each had busy and full lives and our worlds intersected in a narrow margin at sidewalks and driveways.
Hearing their children, grandchildren, lifelong friends and colleagues share their memories was a privilege. For it gave me pause to consider: What will my legacy be? What do I hope to create with this, my "one wild and precious life?" (Mary Oliver) For my neighbors certainly lived full, attentive, loving and passionately engaged lives.
By opening myself up to the vulnerability of deep grieving, I discover within that dark pool immense inspiration. Listening to person after person talk about my neighbors what slowly emerged was a picture of life anchored in love and purpose. That purpose was to nurture within each individual their unique passions, interests and gifts.
Assisting me in uncovering purpose and meaning are my art journals and words. My own words, yes (scribbled in more notebooks) but also the bountiful collection of words, insights and meaning found in poetry. As David Whyte so astutely noted, all poets eventually become philosophers. So I gather close by those books, those writers like Oliver and Whyte who offer so many thresholds into deeper meaning and living.
"One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice--"
- Mary Oliver, The Journey
I lay in my bathtub listening to David Whyte recite the above poem along with other favorites (like Wild Geese) ... the water and the words soothing aches of the body and of the heart. (I believe what I've found is an excerpted segment from a longer recording of The Poetry of Self Compassion.)
Still feeling raw and tender, I am easing myself back into everyday routines. I don't want to lose these gifts of insight. Considering what would be the most loving action I could offer myself, I headed out for a long walk. Inspiring me is the work of Sharon Blackie and these words which I had read the night before from her new and immensely powerful book If Women Rose Rooted:
"We spend out lives searching for meaning in ourselves ... trained to be ever-mindful of what is going on inside us -- our breath, and our thoughts and emotions -- when so much of the meaning we need is beneath our feet, in the plants and animals around us, in the air we breathe. We swaddle ourselves so tightly in the centrality of our own self-referential humanness that we forget that we are creatives of the Earth, and need also to connect with the land. We need to get out of the confines of our own heads. We need -- we badly need -- grounding; we need to find our anchor in place, wherever it is that we live. Once we find that anchor, so many of our problems fade away. And once we find that anchor, so often we uncover the nature of our true work, the nature of the gift we can offer up to the world."
On this day many winged ones greeted me. To truly grasp I share the same space with these powerful and magical creatures is to crack open some secret chamber of hope and possibility within. The fullness of life - life with stunning and unexpected hellos and life with heart-wrenching good-byes - flew up before me. And it slipped quietly below me. All around me ... and within me.