Sunday, February 28, 2021

"Don't Be Late for Your Life"

I thought I'd take a bit of a break from politics today to share some things I've learned in life, particularly how I've experienced a change in perspective as I've grown older.

In the 40 years after I graduated from college, I spent my professional life working with children, youth and families who were struggling. I knew it was my calling, even though the introvert in me dreamed of trees, as Mary Oliver wrote.

There is a thing in me that dreamed of trees,
A quiet house, some green and modest acres
A little way from every troubling town,
A little way from factories, schools, laments.
I would have time, I thought, and time to spare,
With only streams and birds for company,
To build out of my life a few wild stanzas.
And then it came to me, that so was death,
A little way away from everywhere.

There is a thing in me still dreams of trees.
But let it go. Homesick for moderation,
Half the world’s artists shrink or fall away.
If any find solution, let him tell it.
Meanwhile I bend my heart toward lamentation
Where, as the times implore our true involvement,
The blades of every crisis point the way.

I would it were not so, but so it is.

Who ever made music of a mild day?

As I've grown older, I still feel the need to have at least some impact on the lamentations of the world, which is why I continue to write here for the few people who have been kind enough to listen. But a quietness has settled in and I no longer feel the need to climb any ladders of ambition or prove anything to anyone—including myself. 

Instead, the calling I feel these days was captured by this excerpt from the book, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace, by John O'Donohue.
When the mind is festering with trouble or the heart torn, we can find healing among the silence of mountains or fields, or listen to the simple, steadying rhythm of waves. The slowness and stillness gradually takes us over. Our breathing deepens and our hearts calm and our hungers relent. When serenity is restored, new perspectives open to us and difficulty can begin to seem like an invitation to new growth.

This invitation to friendship with nature does of course entail a willingness to be alone out there. Yet this aloneness is anything but lonely. Solitude gradually clarifies the heart until a true tranquility is reached. The irony is that at the heart of that aloneness you feel intimately connected with the world. Indeed, the beauty of nature is often the wisest balm for it gently relieves and releases the caged mind.

So I've found myself some trees...and water...and solitude...and space that is a little way away from everywhere. 

My plan these days is to explore the kind of serenity with nature that O'Donohue wrote about. That is what's right for me at this stage of my life. 

I certainly won't claim that my path is the one everyone should follow. But as a culture, we really haven't done enough to explore how our perspectives change at different stages of life. What I'm learning is that the longings of my soul these days are very different than they were in my 20s, 30s, 40s, and even 50s. As O'Donohue wrote elsewhere, it is important that we pay attention to those longings.

Give yourself time to make a prayer that will become the prayer of your soul. Listen to the voices of longing in your soul. Listen to your hungers. Give attention to the unexpected that lives around the rim of your life. Listen to your memory and to the inrush of your future, to the voices of those near you and those you have lost. Out of all of that attention to your soul, make a prayer that is big enough for your wild soul, yet tender enough for your shy and awkward vulnerability; that has enough healing to gain the ointment of divine forgiveness for your wounds; enough truth and vigour to challenge your blindness and complacency; enough graciousness and vision to mirror your immortal beauty. Write a prayer that is worthy of the destiny to which you have been called.

Or as Mary Chapin Carpenter sang, "don't be late for your life."

4 comments:

  1. We spend so much of our lives meeting the expectations of others, so it is liberating when you reach a point where you no longer have to worry about proving yourself to others. Most of us don't reach that point until the kids are grown, we retire and leave the world of work behind. There are many ways to stay busy and engaged outside of the world of work but you need an identity that isn't tied to your vocation.

    Cherish every sunrise as a blessing.

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  2. It's funny, for a pretty good spell there I was feeling ... regret maybe, or possibly resentment ... I'm not really sure what it was. But when you're young and in your 20s, every possible direction is open to you, but as you make one decision after another, choosing one option means excluding all the other options, until you're left with a very narrow track of practical options out of what was once a universe of possibilities. That was hard to cope with. I don't know what lesson I have to impart to others about that, because I feel like I didn't really learn it; I just sort of got used to being on the track I'm on and not worrying about how I could have backpacked through Europe.

    Maybe the lesson is simply to make sure I'm living each day in a way where I'm carving out a little bit of time to be happy. The drudgery can get suffocating if you let it. So, what Nancy said.

    The other thing is, while I may sometimes wish I had the choices of my youth, I also know damn well that I wasn't happy in my youth. I was lonely, socially-awkward, full of self-loathing, generally a poor fit for my own life. That stuff didn't start straightening out until I hit 30; these days, I can effortlessly deal with matters that were all-consuming back then. And the funny thing is, while I may wish for that universe of options, if I could go back I would probably still make most of the same choices. I'd just make them with greater confidence in myself.

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    Replies
    1. I'd second everything you said. Nancy's goody two-shoes here doesn't resonate with me, but we just have to keep going and finding in ourselves and others what we can.

      Frankly Camus and The Myth of Siphysus never convinced me either. I most definitely do not consider Siphysus happy, pace the book's ending. But the point that doing the right thing for yourself and in itself doesn't depend on hope does make sense to me.

      We have to continue even if the Senate and Supreme Court have ruled out our goals for the indefinite future, and we have to stop blaming ourselves and those on our side if we fail. That includes the centrist Washington Monthly dreamers who are sure we'd succeed if we gave Republicans what they want, Atkins and the Sanders bots who are sure we'd succeed if only we hadn't sold out somehow and somewhere even if we can't say how and when, and yeah Nancy's assurance that if only we were more optimistic. Maybe proceeding without hope is the highest form of courage. As Kafka wrote, there is hope, only not for us.

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  3. I love this post Nancy! Its perfect

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