We are not mad. We are human. We want to love, and someone must forgive us for the paths we take to love, for the paths are many and dark, and we are ardent and cruel in our journey.
I was sleeping when the cat jumped landing on my thigh bone and pulling me rudely across the threshold into consciousness. She had correctly calculated a direct hit, executed a three point turn for her get away…just out of my reach. How my cats can sense when I am waking up or, more specifically, when a meal might be hurried is truly in the realm of the Mysteries.
My first thought was that I did not feel rested…my back hurts… again or still. I think about the video yoga classes, I have restarted. Did I overdo? I am suddenly aware that this not-feeling-well has become a new post-COVID normal. I resist the possibility that this is normal for retirement age, and not chronic. Affirming my own reality bubble that this will not be my retirement experience.
I do not plan to ever retire. I have organized, funded and executed a lovely, satisfying and healthy dotage. I am a decade into my third career as a hospice chaplain, pretty good at it, looking pretty good, too...(Ahem...for an old lady).
These thoughts call Leonard Cohen to mind.
I flopped back to prone in my bed remembering the solo trip yesterday to a video-musical-art exhibit in San Francisco’s Jewish Museum. Its impressions, still raw for me, were amazement, as well as a little depressing. It was not the uplift, I had wanted and expected. It spoke of the vulnerability of time and aging…specifically decline of the masculine body…the inevitable waning muscularity of force, and willfulness. There was also a palpable beauty of their collective surrender to what is, to time. It transcended and hinted at a redefined human strength in the face of Earth-time as more wisdom than will, and more fulfillment than failure.
Separately but in Sync
“I hurt in places where I used to play…” was a Cohen line that still jabbed at me.
The exhibit (Open though mid Feb, 2022) is composed a bunch of just-larger-than-life videos of old men speaking and singing Cohen poetic lyrics-separately but in sync–into the darkness. We, the thirty or so people in the audience were huddled on the central bench and, those walking around were abruptly face to face with the ripened (and raisin-ed) masculinity.
I was watching from our dark place, these men truth-speaking into their darkness... as mine. It was hard not to feel it personally. Cohen’s line in Hallelujah is “ I couldn’t feel so I tried to touch…” spoke their own stories as his words about the misunderstandings of love. Some seemed repentant. Others seemed aloof. Many were still clutching their rage like superman capes. Others were simply illuminated.
“Isn’t the guy in the hat Leonard Cohen?” I asked the woman to my left of the clean-shaven man in a suit.
“Don’t know”, was what I heard through her double COVID masking. I leaned to the right and asked another masked one. She didn’t know either.
I stood up. I walked out of the audience’s dark to stand beside the hatted man. In his light, I listened to his voice. We were alone...and not. Each video has this intimacy and immediacy. The closer I got to any one of the twenty or so video-ed men, I could hear their voice alone. Leonard and I stood together. While I was at his shoulder, he grabbed the script, rolled his eyes, and laughed a little like a boy caught without his homework…He then continued to read with the others–solo but in sync. It was his iconic voice whispering into my ear.
Aging is like this. It keeps whispering change into me. It is humbling, profound…and it hurts. The worst pain is not physical. It’s the questions but that is where the relief is too...
I am on my third career. I walk on the edge of places no one wants to be. I am a curious cleric with good questions. It takes a lot of courage and humility to ask kind questions at the right time. My superpower is knowing in my bones that time is not failure but fulfillment and... that the answer is always love - as we understand it to be.
The Grief World is where Non-sequiturs Rule
A time ago, the sister of a new patient answered my general question seeking to get some background information on her because he was (alas) non-verbal. She answered my question by first telling me what profession she was in, how much money she made doing real estate, then she went on to her husbands career and how well he was doing too. At that point I gently interrupted her, asking again about the patient.
"Yeah, I'm getting to that..." Then she looked at me like I was the one doing a stand up routine. She then mentioned the profession of the patient, which was completely unrelated to her (or her husband's) income stream.
My irritability and impatience was not a good start...because the truth is that the family is an organism, which moves as fast as it's slowest part and this woman was the tail. She was so discombobulated by her brothers illness / decline that she was in the particular dream world where non-sequiturs rule. She was down Alice's rabbit hole.
I joined her there instead of helping her out of her hole...because I was completely out of line with my attitude. I get stressed out, too. I /we/ our hospice team had lost a very dear patient the day before who I had been supporting for many months. I did not recognize my own stress level.
Rx: Practice a Mindful Moment Eight-times a Day
I miss things when I try to overly-control. I know better because I have a daily practice - actually an eight times a day practice where I pause for 1 to 2 minutes (because my phone's buzzer is going off) to do a short prayer or mindful breath. (See The Resiliency Workshop for more on this super useful-practice.)
But, I am generally better at herding cats; that is managing, diversion and distraction at least into the general direction of where I want/need the conversation to go...but I also must listen for interesting and important side streets to the highway that I think I should be on or I will miss something important.
Are you with me?
Serving Wholeness with Wholeness
My impatience should have been my first spiritual clue that (my own) health and wholeness was no longer in evidence. Here is a link to a mini-talk I did before a sound meditation where I quote some interesting things David Whyte, the poet, has to say about witnessing each other and in doing so serving deeply each other's wholeness.
Thank you for listening. Please comment.
I am not Jewish, I am Interfaith.
I support people of any faith or no faith...and all those rivers between the two as a hospice and bereavement chaplain...and in my writings and sound meditations.
It can be a rough ride. A good day of being a hospice chaplain is being able to:
• to stay open: my own daily meditation & prayer practice
• to stay curious: regular research & study about this world
• to stay on the side of love: improvisation with Spirit by listening deeply
I have been supporting several (very secular) Jewish folks at bedside in the last two weeks. They don't know or to date have refused me to reach out to a local Rabbi, so I am enjoying the research. It has deepened my own prayer practice, which is ever evolving.
Here is an adapted prayer from the Jewish Morning Prayer. Try it (with your name as host* of God) now, see if you don't get clarity & guidance.
* Host - Another Jewish prayer in the book references the name of god as "Lord of Hosts" and asks if you might surrender to be the host of God today. It is a thoughtful idea.
I PLANT seeds today with each thought I think and each breath I take.
I remember that my work does not need to be done by me alone. I quiet my mind, ask, and patiently listen for the still, small voice and heed its guidance... to make the best choices for me and the highest good of all...
I take a deep breath, feel my oneness with Spirit, and know that everything I need to do will get done.
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