I must have wrenched my arm yesterday, because I woke up in pain this morning wondering if my body was letting me know that it was time to watch for signs of the inevitable breakdown of aging. Actually, it wasn’t anything more than a pinched nerve from carrying an awkward bundle yesterday, but still, it might be time to be realistic about taking signs of aging seriously. Like it or not, death will happen one of these days, as it already has for my husband and so many good friends of ours, so for me it is just a matter of time.
Don’t get me wrong, on most days I am in quite decent shape, hiking these Vermont woods in snow and wind, and I love watching the bright young ones find their way in a changing world, their feet grounded on real earth, and their minds agile and smart, whether I like their fixation on computer technology, or not. I recently asked a ten-year-old girl what most fascinated her and she answered without hesitation “carnivorous plants.” I was properly impressed!
I myself still follow my own fascinations, writing about whatever has grabbed me in the moment and how it relates to this massive transition we are all engaged in, even when we believe it is all a tragic mess. I agree that it’s hard to witness our species stomp and stumble on a daily basis, forgetting that it’s all of us or none of us as we try and find our way through this shift into a higher consciousness, but I choose to continue to have faith. I believe we are actually all doing the work of evolution, even though it does not always look that way, and that we are actually making progress, day by day.
So for me it makes sense to trust the process even when it looks cruel and insane, and I try to keep an eye on what shows up next as we come to grips with the inexorable turning of the wheel that often appears cruel and mindless, but keeps grinding, like a millstone, hard seeds into flour.
The old mills here in rural Vermont are all perched on brooks that tumble into waterfalls that, in the old days, turned the wheels that ground the grain into flour. No longer working mills, they are now simply scenic relics hidden way up a stream, abandoned to the winter snows that make them even more picturesque, spilling water like music into the silent woods. I love to make my way alongside a brook and go dreamy by the waterfalls about days long gone.
Here, it is easy to measure the passage of time, where the seasons clearly change color and the whitewater levels in the brooks rise and fall with every day of rain or snow. The moon itself waxes and wanes faster than I expect it to, and the passage from morning light to sunset skies seems to happen before I’ve had a chance to figure out my day.
Things change fast around here and appear to even be speeding up! On my good days I find it pretty exciting, and on my not-so-good days I confess it can be scary as hell, especially as the media plays its part in keeping us both informed and misinformed which is confounding, to say the least. I try to avoid most of it, keeping an eye out for the news from the fringes that reassure me that despite the melee, consciousness is indeed evolving and that our species, with all our violence and stops and starts, may in fact be in the process of growing up. May it be so…
I have been paying attention to the fringes—free energy and crop circles, synchronicities and extraordinary children. I follow the archeological data emerging about the discoveries of ancient civilizations we knew nothing about until now, and what these cultures understood about our galaxy long before our era: Göbekli Tepe in Turkey; Gunung Padam in Indonesia, for example. Pyramids in Egypt clearly much older than we thought and pyramids in Antarctica! Our histories will have to be rewritten, which may change the common knowledge of who we really are, and how long we humans have inhabited this planet!
Like many of you, I wonder about this a lot: Who are we, really, and where have we actually come from? And why, exactly, did I make this radical move across the country in my elder years—what is here waiting for me to discover it?
I am familiar with these kind of questions, especially since the 1980s when the AIDS Epidemic changed all our lives and it felt to me like we had entered a new and unstable epoch in the world. So many of our best and our brightest fell to AIDS, as did many of my closest friends. I took on the call for help and, without looking back I became a rookie student on a fast learning track.
For about two years, I spent much of my time at bedsides and in hospital waiting rooms where too many of my favorite people were facing death long before their time—artists and writers, musicians and choreographers. I had to learn to grieve fast to be ready for the next assault, and then come up for air to do it again.
I learned about the preciousness of life on Earth at the same time as I learned how to diaper a grown man. I learned how to live my every breath with total attention and I learned how to listen closely. I sat beside each man and boy, taking in what he was learning, seeing through his eyes and my own at the same time.
We wept together, often laughing through helpless tears as we manoeuvred through everyday dilemmas, like struggling to keep a naked—and slippery—friend twice my size upright in the bathtub, both of us soaked and in hysterics by the time I helped him climb shakily out of the tub and stagger back to his bed without falling over.
I watched these guys become wise elders before their time as they fast-forwarded into the remainder of their lives; I experienced with them their gratitude for the depths into which this disease had pushed them, and their unexpected expansions into love. I watched them evolve every day, and I began learning to let go of whatever I thought I knew about anything—simply allowing myself to grow into the reality of my admiration and love for them.
And it was enough.
Duncan was my closest friend, and one memory stands out: We took a slow Spring walk one day to sniff the flowers in his neighbors’ gardens, his eyes closing dreamily as he took in each fragrance. I watched this once-strapping six-foot guy memorizing, with trembling fingers, a rose, a lavender, a freesia. He gazed up at a sunflower now taller than himself, and burrowed his nose into its dark seeds, laughing.
Walking on we reached the old spur-line rail tracks, now quiet and empty, and suddenly he spun around and stamped his foot, shouting,
“No! Not mine!”
I had no idea what he meant.
“Mine will be too hard for you,” he insisted, his eyes filling, “I don’t want you there when I die!”
Shocked to know that he had apparently given up his hope to beat the odds, I choked and was silent. He knew I was terrified to lose him. He was my best friend, after all, and he was all of 47 years old.
We were also collaborators, improvisational musicians who had been experimenting with vocal techniques as a healing modality for several years at that point. With our ongoing practice he had managed to keep his T-cell count in control all this time, and only lately had his numbers begun climbing again. We were actively exploring for the key to this, singing our hearts out together most every day!
This work was our chance to demonstrate, by saving his life with music and resonance, another way to heal the human body by focussing on immune system strength before honing in on the physical symptoms. We experimented with sound, with improvisation. We were perfect partners, knowing how to raise the roof with our voices—a marvelous team! No way I could lose him now!
We sobbed together by the train tracks, holding one another hard and we prayed for miracles which, I believe, in fact gave him some extra months he might not have had otherwise. But eventually his slow decline took over, the singing took more strength than he had, and he switched from singing to writing his stories and began to prepare himself for the take-off. I had no choice but to follow his lead and support the writing, looking over his shoulder and making suggestions, saw most of his drafts—except for when I didn’t—and we wept and laughed and argued over shared memories we recalled differently.
Slowly, day by day he prepared for his take-off, absorbed in his final ‘performance,’ the book called Candle in the Night. The hard copy of the published book arrived into his hands, by mail, just one day before he left us, and I suspect it took everything he had to hold on long enough to actually see his words in print.
I can see now that those years of loss, for me, were a deep initiation, as I had to take in the reality of Death in a kind of crash course. My younger sister Leslie died just weeks after Duncan, and then it was Jim, then Rosie, and later my husband Herb, my brother Leon … again and again, the finest people I knew left this world, almost all before their time. Without me.
I weep now remembering …
Outside my window here in snowy Vermont, I see a bright red cardinal in the winter-golden hydrangea bush when I look up from reading young Merlin Sheldrake’s book on fungi. His mother and I met a few years before his birth, and here he is a grown-up man illuminating the world of mycelia beneath the soil for us all like a red cardinal hopping into view from the golden leaves of a spring-flowering bush.
“Nature is an event that never stops,” he says in this book Entangled Life.
Nature never stops, it’s true, each of us and every living thing coming in, going out, living and loving, eating and growing, laughing and crying … like Duncan, like Leslie, like Leon, like Herb, like Julie, like every soul who has ever incarnated on earth, every plant and every fungus, every microbe and every creature … alive and here, and then not here … gone these many years but still here, right now …
Like myself, pretty soon but not quite yet.
Like you too, and all of us without exception—even if not quite yet.