February 1st, 2009

alan's beach photo

Still here -

It is morning, still, clear, soft blue sky.   Three year old Zach is in the why stage, so each time I am with him I explain many times about the turning earth and the rotation of the earth around the sun, and the tilt of the axis.  For him, everything orients around Mt. Tamalpais, and he always says the whole word, just as he knows his home when he is not living with his grandparents is in San Francisco, not "the city."

I read the news this morning and feel a detachment from it.  It feels irrelevant to me in this moment.   What matters is that when I open the door this morning for my cats, there is a new feel to the light.  Spring is here and the sweet pungent smell of acacia is in the air.  Daffodils bloom.  You may be in snow and cold, but here, there is that feel of spring on this first day of February.  I feel the shift of light inside, a curious nosing into another year.

I am reminded now of the book by Ram Dass, Still Here, Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying.   I was reading Wendell Berry's book yesterday That Distant Land, about life in the country in a small town in the late 19th and early 20th century.   Death was a given then, an acknowledged part of life.  Women lost children and though cheerful, may have always worn black.

In the short story Pray Without Ceasing in this book, a woman learns her husband has been shot and is dead.

"She was already wearing black. She had borne four children and raised one.  Two of her children she had buried in the same week of a diphtheria epidemic, of which she had nearly died herself.  After the third child had died, she never wore colors again. It was not that she chose to be ostentatiously bereaved.  She could not have chosen to be ostentatious about anything. She was, in fact, a woman possessed of a strong native cheerfulness.  And yet she had accepted a certain darkness that she had lived in too intimately to deny."

In New York City, when all was booming, black was the color.  Then, for the Inauguration, colors were in, but I wonder now if we can address a certain gravity that is always necessarily in our lives when we acknowledge it.   Those who have stolen so much money, legally stolen, it still appears, bought two homes, three, four without thought as to what life might really be about.

Maybe now, we acknowledge the turning each day of dark and light, the revolving tides that are life and involvement on this beautiful globe in this changing and evolving world.  

alan - lilies in the shade

Ram Dass -

I am perusing Ram Dass's book, Still Here, about life after a stroke.  I have seen him speak a few times since his stroke and it is fascinating to be part of what he has learned. 

One thing I note in this book is there has been a reverence in the past and in some countries still, for the wisdom of elders.  I think we need to continue cultivating that, especially as I enter now the age of wisdom.

Ram Dass:

"A few years ago I visited a village in India where I had spent a great deal of time.  I visited the house of a dear friend who said to me, "Oh, Ram Dass, you're looking so much older!"  Because I live in the United States, my first reaction was defensive; inwardly, I thought to myself, "Gee, I thought I was looking pretty good."  But when I paused to take in the tone of my friend's voice, this reaction melted instantly.  I heard the respect with which he'd addressed me, as if to say, "You've done it, my friend! You've grown old! You've earned the respect due an elder now, someone we can rely on and to whom we can listen."

Ram Dass:

"Because we are so identifed with our thoughts and feelings, and so sure that they and only they tell us who we really are, it's very hard for us not to panic when our minds slip.  And yet there are cases in which what we call senility, is, in fact, a process that need not be so frightening. As Frances, a resident in a nursing home said, "Lack of physical strength keeps me inactive and often silent.  They call me senile, but senility is just a convenient peg on which to hang non-conformity. A new set of faculties seem to be coming into operation. More than at any other time of my life, I seem to be aware of the beauties of our spinning planet and the sky above. Old age is sharpening my Awareness."  In other words, what appears to be loss may in fact be transformation, if we allow the mind to change without fear.

There is an award-winning film, "Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter, that I love for its honesty and its ability to awaken. The writer-director chronicles the advancing stages of Alzheimer's Syndrome in her mother, at the same time recording her own reactions to this illness. Finally, when it becomes too dangerous for the mother to remain in her own apartment, the daughter moves her to a nursing home for patients with Alzheimer's.

During the admissions process, the head of the nursing home tells the daughter not to leave anything from the past with her mother - not even her clothes. This seems harsh at the time, but the daughter does as she's asked. When she returns the next day, she finds her mother wearing a man's sweatshirt, and carrying a pocketbook with one penny in it. The daughter suddenly realizes that her mother is quite happy, now that there's no one around to remind her of what's she forgotten. The daugher realizes that her loving attachment to the mother she's known has only prolonged her mother's suffering.  In time, she learns to relax her attachment and to dance with her mother's consciousness wherever it might flow. In the last scene, the mother is walking down the corridor, swinging her pocketbook, and singing, "I'm freeee.  I'm freeee!"

Perhaps dementia returns us to the childhood games of dress-up and imaginary friends.  Perhaps we can see it differently and give ourselves more freedom of movement and consciousness, now, too.  How many times a day might we sing, "I'm freeeee!"