Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Facing the Frontier

With increasing frequency, I am reminded that life is fragile.  We are approaching summer once again, and I will not make the mistake this year of fantasizing about relaxing days of gardening with lush blooming flowers, happy dinners on the patio with friends and family, time in the pasture with my horses doing exercises at liberty. I dreamed of all that last year, and I feel like I jinxed it.   Not that I am going to be a neurotic, worried grump or anything, but I’m forcing myself to just take it as it comes this time around. You just never know what will happen.

It has been exactly a year since the frightening accident where the tractor rolled over with my husband on it while he was mowing the hill behind the barn. We are extremely thankful that he has recovered so well. In a few weeks, we will come to the second anniversary of when I dislocated my elbow and broke my right arm, a life-changing injury. I have mostly overcome the inconvenience, but it will continue to cause me some pain for the rest of my days. When we pulled the first ticks of the season off my husband and our dog this weekend, we recalled how Lyme disease affected Mark’s heart two summers ago, and he ended up in the cardiac unit at the hospital for a couple of weeks. I am now taking on my role as the supremely annoying bug spray queen, demanding that each of us coat ourselves before stepping out the back door. Summer does not have the air of carefree abandon that it once did. Live and learn, I keep telling myself. I’m trying.

I was deeply saddened last week to learn of the unexpected death of Angeles Arrien, a gifted writer and anthropologist whom I liked to think of as “the guardian angel of gratitude”. Each morning as I pull the milk carton out of the refrigerator to pour in my coffee, I stare at her message posted there: “Four Rules for Life: Show up. Pay Attention. Tell the truth. Don’t be attached to the results.”
 When I learned that she was no longer on this earth, I took one of her books off my shelf called “The Second Half of Life”. What’s interesting is that I read this when she first wrote it, about eight years ago, shortly after we moved here, and I was very disappointed in it.  Now, I am stunned at its wisdom and message and how it resonates with me at this point in my life.  I guess I was just not ready to hear it before now.

Among other aspects of aging, Angeles Arrien explores the dilemma of striving for a successful, ambitious but emotionally unfulfilling external life versus the need for a meaningful and satisfying inner life.  As I am beginning to re-invent myself now that our daughter is going off to college, I probably spend entirely too much time wondering how I can find work that has meaning as well as being lucrative.  I did not realize that Arrien was close friends with Clarissa Pinkola Estes and poet David Whyte, two of my other favorite spiritual guides.  Both of them have expressed their grief, and in their writing, I have come to a better understanding that we all share some of the same reactions to life’s fragile nature.

David Whyte tackled the difficult nature of honesty as he reflected on the loss of his friend. “Honesty is not the revealing of some foundational truth that gives us power over life or another or even the self, but a robust incarnation into the unknown unfolding vulnerability of existence, where we acknowledge how powerless we feel, how little we actually know, how afraid we are of not knowing and how astonished we are by the generous measure of grief that is conferred upon even the most average life.”

When I was younger, I would have argued long and hard that we are not powerless.  Now, I’m being to understand that from our acceptance of how powerless we are about loss or unexpected turns of events, we can reach a few steps closer to that elusive meaning that we search for in our inner life. 
Whyte calls this coming to ground and facing the unknown “the living, breathing frontier”.  Angeles Arrien wrote about ways we can all be grateful for the maps that we share with each other as we venture into this frontier.  And Clarissa Pinkola Estes, everyone’s mother and curandera, blesses her dear friend, Angie, and others who are gone: “Let the Perpetual Light shine upon them. Ever and Always. May the Light shining on them, shine through and radiate ever through us, also.” Each uncertain step we take offers us another opportunity to reach out for each other’s hands and give each other comfort along the way into the future.

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