Writing on

My father died.

Leo Baldwin was good at living, amazing at aging, determined to continue contributing up to his last days. He remained cheerful and present even while suffering the pain, indignities, and procedures of his final trip through the medical system. He was 98 years old and had never had an illness that he didn’t fully recover from with a little Tylenol and determination. It took him (and me, and us, and his community) a month to admit that his body wasn’t going to carry him any farther: he’d come to the end of his road.  And when he let go, he let go fully and was gone in 28 hours.

I am happy he was able to finish as himself. I am swept into waves of missing him. He was a much loved and respected central figure in our island lives. Ann and I move through a community that misses him as well. We pause and tell each other stories of his influence and friendship.

“A man and his butte,” photo by Becky Dougherty.

His local memorial service was teary and celebratory and the hall was packed with his wide range of friends. His descendants and extended family will gather in Montana next summer to bury some of his ashes in the soil that birthed him and to lift some of his ashes to the prevailing winds around those buttes and valleys.

And when my father died, my editor died.

I am writing a novel based on a fictionalized version of the town where my father grew up in west central Montana. The story takes place during the early years of WWII, when the first generation of homesteaders is ready for their sons to take over—but many of those sons are called into the war. The central story revolves around the Cooper family: an older beekeeper/Methodist minister named Leo and his relationship with his sons and their wives and the community at large.

My father, Leo, was the age of the young men in this story, and the lineage of the Baldwin family—the bees, the homespun ethics of Protestantism and citizenship, and the social justice issues that lay on this land—are a blend of family heritage and fiction. My ability to capture this time before I was born has been greatly enhanced by the spidery handwritten commentary my father added to my first drafts, and by the hours and hours of conversation at his dining table as we went through the story page by page. He found the typos, tweaked the dialogue, and dived into exploring the themes that activate the subtext of the story. He drummed into me his knowledge of bees and beekeeping.

This process was the most powerful experience of transmission I have ever received from another person. Novelist Barbara Kingsolver, in speaking of writing and rewriting said, “It is thrilling to take an ending and pull it backward like a shiny thread through the whole fabric of a manuscript.” We were pulling threads. I was writing my way forward, forging the story as the characters worded themselves into being. I was working the loom of the first draft. He was reflecting his way backward, seeing his life transformed and woven through the voices of the Coopers. It was a mystical interaction we each surrendered to in different ways.

All this past year I noticed him wearing down and wrote as fast as I could. He asked me once, “Does Leo Cooper need to die in this story? Does the father need to step aside to make room for the next generation to fully become themselves?” We talked about it as a literary device. We talked about it in terms of the emotional maturation of the story’s characters.

“I don’t want Leo to die,” I told him. “I love him…”

Blue eyes looking deep into brown eyes, he assured me “I know you have the courage to write what needs to be written.” I wept all the way home, the eleven miles between his house and mine. That was July: we had two more months before he would turn his attention to letting himself depart.

In the story, it is June 1943. The fight against fascism is not won. People don’t know the outcome; don’t know who will live or die, or what will ultimately be asked of them. They may be far from the battlefields, but their lives are fraught with the tension and chaos of a world in shift. A young war bride and her baby are making a place in the valley. Her faraway husband has just been injured in battle. The angry brother is trying to make peace in himself, his family, and the community. Under the hot Montana sun, Leo Cooper has a stroke in his bee-yards.

In my life, it is November 2018. The fight against fascism is not won. We don’t know the outcome; don’t know who will live or die, or what will ultimately be asked of us. The battlefield is everywhere. Our lives are fraught with the tension and chaos of a world in shift.

I rally my writing skills to reach back to then and to them; I reach my imagination into the brokenness and openness of the Coopers to discover the story map that can help me live honorably in our world of dire consequences in which the lives of ordinary people may shine.

Dad and I were on Chapter 42.

I am on Chapter 43.

 

Rocks of Ages

I’m walking in a narrow riverbed, wearing special river boots and feeling my way carefully over rocks hidden under murky water. I am carrying a hiking stick, probing for balance. Above me, cliffs soar 1500 feet revealing a slit of morning sky. I place my hand along the sandstone walls of the slot canyon, touching what was seabed 61 million years ago. Touching what water can do to rock. Touching a strip of smoothed rock-face about shoulder height, burnished by hundreds of thousands of hands just like mine, pressing skin on stone.

This is a hike called the Zion Narrows, where the Virgin River flows through Zion National Park in southern Utah. It is a spectacular end-of-summer adventure that Ann and I have been training for by walking Whidbey trails for months: increasing distance, hours, weight in our backpacks. We ride the first park shuttle of the day and arrive at the wade-in point, in the middle of the park about 7:30 AM.

People dwarfed by canyon walls. Zion Narrows.

We will stay “in river” for over nine hours, walk over 10 miles, and alternate between moments of utter aloneness with Nature, and navigating around clumps of people in various stages of appreciation and athleticism. People come from all over the world to do this hike and the languages that stream by us babble like the river itself. There are many families, mid-life and younger parents, teens and toddlers, some younger grandparents. I would say I am the elder here—except that is a ridiculous, egocentric, anthropomorphic comment when walking along these cliffs comprised of sedimentary deposits of unimaginable age.

In the National Park Service brochure, it is written: “These rock layers hold stories of ancient environments and inhabitants very different from those found in Zion today. In this distant past, Zion and the Colorado Plateau were near sea level and were even in a different place on the globe—close to the equator. The rock layers found in Zion today were deposited approximately 110-270 million years ago, and only in recent geologic time uplifted to form the scenery of Zion National Park.”

And I am a seventy-two year old human-being walking in the floor of the canyon, pressing my palms onto the skin of the rock, awash in awe and wonder. I am humbled by the beauty, and calmed inside the incomprehensible bigness of this story. Truly, Earth is the planet of the stones.

Moving slowly, deliberately upriver, I am held in a beauty that allows both gratitude and grief to rise. Gratitude that the canyon is still protected; grief for most everything else, especially that other Utah canyon lands are being auctioned off by shortsightedness and greed to the oil and gas industry. The mantra, “forgive me, forgive us,” wrenches through my heart…but just as quickly the thought races back, “What humanity has done to the Earth is not forgivable. It is not even appropriate to ask such a thing of these stones.”

Forgiveness is a human issue. Inadvertently or intentionally we trespass on one another’s trust. As we become aware of our transgressions, most of us try to be accountable for harm done, we practice making amends, learn to ask to be forgiven, and to forgive. We ask this of one another. We ask this of institutions because corporations, churches, governments, and militaries are all run by people. Forgiveness functions at the scale of human flaw, human harm, and human capacity for recovery.

Zion Narrows–high noon

The stone I am touching is outside this drama. I am standing under a cliff that does not register my presence: forgiveness is not the business of these stones. They are invulnerable. They are the body of the Earth. I am the disposable being here. My species is so young we are not even embedded in the geologic layer. And when this era crumbles to dust, what a layer that will be: landfills, atomic waste and nuclear warheads, mountains of plastics, tumbled skyscrapers, rusting vehicles, the bones of billions and the Sixth Great Extinction. But the cliffs will take it all and press it down and make more layers atop us.

Geologists have named and chronicled these layers: the Carmel Formation, the Temple Cap Formation, the Navajo Sandstone, the Kenyeta Foundation—representing several hundred millions of years of compression and upheaval. The waterfalls seeping out of the sandstone have been a thousand years in the making, since an ancient rainy day drove droplets into the top layer and they filtered down and down and down. Purified, they fall on my uplifted face. The earth has cleansed it all—whatever happened then, the stink of dying mastodons, the rotting seaweed of a long gone sea, and whatever happens now and tomorrow—eventually we all become a chapter in the story of the stones.

I stand in a moment of profound recognition: human beings cannot destroy the Earth. I kiss the cliff walls with unbounded joy, with the certainty that this rock will survive.

The land I live on, my island in Puget Sound, is an old river delta made by glacial melting 10,000 years ago. It is young and unstable, the layers loosely packed and crumbling back into the sea. It rests on the edge of deep coastal fault-lines.

This land I visit is old, weathered, wise even. It transmits endurance. Standing in place. Allowing wind and water to shape it. To sustain joy in these times is a matter of what I identify as source, as ground. I pause here: feet in the river, hands on the stone, sun and shadow all around me.

Stilled.

It is still true that beyond the canyon walls humanity is busily destroying the biosphere that makes our version of life-on-Earth possible. It is still true that the foundational question of life on Earth at this time is whether or not we as a species will rally ourselves to correct our relationship with Nature. It is still true that the answer may be no: or that our systemic tampering with biological and geological energies is beyond our capacity to correct to our liking. It is still true that how we have treated one another, and how we have treated the species that companion us, and used the resources offered us, is unforgivable and has grave consequences that are all coming due. But in this moment I am just a tiny desert lizard licking the water of life off the rock walls. I am in sunshine. I am home. I surrender to what is.

Canyon lizard–the weeping rocks, near entrance. All photos by Ann Linnea

 

Where is my mother?

There are several children’s books by this title. Various cartoon animal-children, in search of their animal-mommies, inquire of other cartoon animals, “Have you seen my mommy?” I saw a book like this at the library and it raised the question for me about my own mother, now several months after her death.

My mother’s ashes were divided into four equal parts and given to each of her children. Together we threw some ceremoniously off the ferry into the waters of Georgia Strait on our way back from her memorial service. I put some into a small pouch that I wore next to my heart in the Seattle Women’s March on January 21st. That pouch now resides next to a photo of us, a little shrine near my writing desk. And I recently ordered a dozen “memory stones.” These are beautiful little disks (future talking pieces?) of  blown glass, with ashes that turn to bright, white sparkles. My

Her two favorite colors, and “her” in the center.

mother becomes a tiny galaxy to be distributed to grandchildren and friends.

These gestures give me peace of heart—but what I am enjoying most are all the other ways and places “she” shows up. Like the small wooden bench that sat for years by the entrance to her patio home, and then on her apartment balcony. Now it graces our remodeled bathroom and we use it every day, admiring its sturdiness and how well it held up from years outdoors before its pampered life indoors.

I am enjoying the fancy dishes, flowery Royal Doulton patterns bought right at the factory in England. When she offered them, I accepted with delight—under three conditions: “1. I’m going to use them every day; they are not going into a china cabinet (no I don’t want your cabinet). 2. I will put them in the dishwasher (though not the microwave), even the ones with gold trim. 3. Before they go into

Four-legged water saving device, prewash service.

the dishwasher, I’m going to let the dog lick them.” She winced, but handed them over. Genius on her part: I think of her every time I reach for them, which is several times a day.

 

Also in the kitchen, a metal garlic press from my childhood that still works better than any “new and improved” press I’ve bought over the years, and I’ve bought a number of them. This family heirloom will go to the niece or nephew who can make the best garlic-laced lasagna. There will be a cook-off before I pop off.

The list grows and shifts as I notice things, so only one more confession: some days I’m wearing her underpants. Silky, with lace trimmings, they are brand new, as she spent the last year of her life in adult diapers. The only drawback: they have a taped nametag on them from the care centre. If I’m ever in that proverbial car accident, it’s going to confuse the paramedics when my driver’s license says Christina Baldwin and my underwear says Connie McGregor.

I’ve been listening to more classical music this winter, wearing her sweaters and scarves and appreciating everything she did to urge along a sense of culture, style, and flair in her tomboy daughter.

About 20 years ago, I invited my mother to join a journal writing retreat I was leading at Hollyhock Farm in coastal British Columbia. She already lived in BC, on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. Ann Linnea and I were just settling on Whidbey.

I felt ready to call a circle in which my mother could sit among a sisterhood of writers and I could be the teacher and guide, my book Life’s Companion, would be the text. She was then just a few years older than I am now, newly widowed from her Canadian husband, and her mother had recently died at 106.

So we arrive at Hollyhock. I don’t remember our conversation, but were walking the wooded trails overlooking Desolation Sound. A day of blue sky and matching blue waters, islands dotting the sea, mountains in the distance. I began touching a trailing branch of cedar, “Mother,” I said softly. Then more conversation before touching a moss covered boulder, “Mother.” We walked on. Gesturing into the view I whispered, “Mother.”

I was trying to signal her, before she joined the class, that I had transferred the mother archeypte from her/personal to Gaia/transpersonal. After a while, she began to touch the greenery around us, and whisper with me, “Mother…” Mother Cedar. Mother Boulder. Mother Ocean. Mother Mountain.

Connie in a tree–about this time period.

I do not feel orphaned by her departure. My Mother is the Earth. I miss Connie/mom, think of her daily, and wonder how she is enjoying the whatever-comes-next that so fascinated her. My grief is primarily a peaceful ride. When I can calm my awareness, I look for signals coming through—something I thoroughly expect from her after all those years standing in my shoes trying to receive through the veil from her dearly departeds.

I was her firstborn, her “practice baby,” she said, the one she didn’t quite know what to do with. Our relationship was a long road, and it finished in beauty, peace, and open heartedness. That is sufficient. When I need to have a wee cry, I go down to the beach and nestle in amongst the drift logs and sand and am held. Mother Sea. Mother Sky. Mother Mountain. Mother Trees. Mother in my own heart.

The Search for the Lost Chord

This is my remembrance piece for my mother, Connie McGregor, spoken at her Memorial Service 7 January 2017, at the United Church of Canada in Chemainus, BC, her home community.

Connie, summer of 2016

Connie, summer of 2016.

 

All her life, my mother was looking for “the Lost Chord”—that mystical longing for ultimate harmony.

The story of the lost chord comes from a famous Victorian parlor song about an organist playing idly at the keyboard who suddenly comes upon this chord. He is enthralled with its beauty, but can never find it again, finally deciding he will only hear it in heaven.

Longing for music awakened Connie’s heart. Musical chords were the DNA of her soul. What she couldn’t communicate any other way she poured into music. As a teenager in the Great Depression, in Rapid City, SD, she had a 15-minute weekly recital she played on the radio.

Our earliest memories of her are musical. There are photos of her teaching Sunday school with a passel of 3 & 4 years, our tiny hands full of rhythm instruments while she sits at the piano, toddler Carl in one arm, playing “Jesus loves the little children,” right-hand only, trying to attach our fledgling souls to the power of music.

Uncountable nights of our childhoods, finally getting all four of us to bed, she would ignore her 1950s “housewife” chores, sit down at the piano and pour out Debussy, Chopin, Ravel, Vaughn Williams, Rogers & Hammerstein, and favorites from the Methodist Hymnal.

1952--such a period piece photo

1952–such a period piece photo

Connie also longed for social justice. In 1940, while studying at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, she was profoundly influenced by the university president, Carl S. Knopf (after whom our brother is named). Knopf was a theological pacifist and urged the world to consider alternatives to war and violence. Shared pacifism was an early bond between our parents.

Our father, Leo, became a conscientious objector and after their marriage in 1942, Connie and Leo served together in the Civilian Public Service Corps throughout WWII. In recent years, when the contributions of pacifists are finally being recognized, Leo is quick to point out, “The women served too and deserve equal credit.” During this time, Connie played in the camp orchestra, worked as a secretary in federal prison, and started early pre-school programs for the children of women employed in the war effort.

My parents during the war years while in CPS in the Northwest.

My parents during the war years while in CPS in the Northwest.

After the War, while Leo went to graduate school, 1946-48, Carl and I were born less than two years apart. In Indiana, a few years later, when Becky was a baby, they sponsored refugee families from Germany and Poland. In the early 1960’s, now with Ricky completing the family, and our relocation to suburban Minneapolis, Mom took us downtown to African Methodist churches, to interracial youth groups and play dates. When the Vietnam War broke out, she fiercely supported both my brother in the Army in DaNang, and me in the peace movement in San Francisco.

In 1990, with her Canadian husband, Don McGregor, she moved to Vancouver Island and after his death in 1995, began what was probably the most satisfying period of her life. Here in Chemainus, she read peace poetry on Remembrance Day, at Waterwheel Park, setting up a lectern and standing by her convictions. In Ladysmith, in her Strata, she stood up against a financial injustice occurring there and would not be intimated or ostracized into changing her vote. She called her neighbors to accountability.

She donated to many causes, especially Amnesty International, and filled envelopes with $20/bills that she slipped anonymously to folks in need at Christmas time.

Longing for spirit, Connie lived faithfully within Christian tradition, but kept the church door of her heart open to many sources of insight. She attended whatever church best met her needs for community and open-mindedness: Lutheran, Methodist, Unitarian, Congregationalist, Spiritualist, UCC. She demanded that people think through their theology, not just sit in the pew and accept doctrine. She led book discussions, prayer and Bible studies, and she read Martin Buber, Carl Jung, CS Lewis, Simone de Beauvoir, Joseph Campbell, Marcus Borg, and John Spong. Many people have been influenced by her ever seeking mind… we, her children, certainly have.

C'sbks copy

Her bookshelf in her apartment.

It was not always easy being around this insatiable curiosity, but it was always interesting. To be Connie’s family or friend, you had to learn to define (and defend) yourself, to chart your own path, to articulate and stand by your beliefs. She didn’t want agreement—she wanted mutually rigorous engagement. Her search for belonging, on one level a huge desire to find “like kind,” was also a huge desire to be met, intellect-to-intellect.

Still curious and in awe of the world in 2014

Still curious and in awe of the world in 2014

The last few years were hard on her—and on all of us who loved her. Her short-term memory left great gaps—not dementia of the usual sort. Until just a few months ago, she could still be roused to talk about theology or conscious dying; she could play piano; her humor would come forth like the Dormouse waking out of the teapot. She just couldn’t remember that we’d come to visit or what she’d had for lunch. When she entered the Chemainus HC Centre, she told the director, “I am still a woman of intellect and I expect to have a voice in my care.”

Last January, on the last night in her Nanaimo apartment, my sister Becky and I had a kind of mother/daughter sleepover with her. We sisters were having a glass of wine when Connie, who barely sipped alcohol, asked for some. “Do you want wine?” I asked her, “or do you want communion?”

“Communion,” she said. So we entered sacramental space. We offered one another the cup of life. We broke out crackers and fed each other holy bread. We took her favorite perfume; a fragrance called “Happy,” and anointed one another. “Is something big about to happen to me?” she inquired.

“Yes. You are moving into care, mom. This is your last night among the beauty of your things. You need nurses and aides who can help you and keep you safe. You are going back to Chemainus. You are trading things for community. Can you do that?”

She nodded. “What will be my job there?”

“Your job will be to let love all the way in, and to send love all the way out.”

As I think about the blessings embedded in this year of deterioration—I am so grateful that she took on this final job. She got there. She died whispering “I love you…” she died listening to us whisper “I love you, too.”

Her search was over.

She became the lost chord.

 

 

2016 Nov 5 Connie last piano copy

Playing piano on her 96th birthday, 20 days before she died.

 

What is dying, Nina?

Cool sunrise over a fake lagoon in Chandler, AZ, oasis in the desert. A November day here will turn hot and we will go jump in the community pool. I have brought my teacup and journal to a little veranda to write and think about my mother who lies dying in the nursing home that has tended her this past year. I am in Arizona. She is in British Columbia.

My reverie is sweetly shifted by the arrival of my six-year old granddaughter. She is watching me closely this week as I am tracking with my sister & brother who sit at our mother’s side. In the vacation rental house where we are all staying during a reunion and family Thanksgiving, there is a flickering candle altar with photos that honor my mother and also her Uncle Brian who died three years ago. In this same three-year period she has also lost her great-grandfather and her other grandmother, her father’s mom.

altar2

She is twirling my hair, sitting on my lap. “What is dying, Nina?” she asks. “People get dead and then they’re gone.” I take a breath, she’s trusting me to give her something she can understand.ns

“People have two parts that make us who we are: the soul, and the body. I recognize you because I know how you look, and sound, and feel. And I recognize you because who you are shines out from inside you. When you are in your mommy’s womb, the body and the soul come together and you are born in one piece that is both physical and spiritual.

“Then you live your life—one beautiful piece of body and soul. Dying is when those two parts separate again. The body goes back to the earth, and the soul goes back to spirit.”

“Is that heaven?”

“Yes, heaven is one name for where the spirit goes.”

“Why is your mama dying? Is she hurt? sick?”

“She’s dying because she’s so old her body is tired and her soul needs to be free again. I am happy that she is going to be free, and I cry when I remember all the things we’ve shared and learned from each other.”

We look across the lagoon, and there is the metaphor made visible. “Look at the palm trees, Sasha… see how they are reflected in the water?” She nods. There is the tree that we see growing on the ground, and there is the tree that is reflected upside down in the water. The standing tree is like the body, the reflected tree is like the soul.”

Body & soul.

Body & soul.

“Oh… okay. Can I draw the picture in your journal?”

She takes a pen and begins to draw palm trees and us on the veranda. The day moves on. My mother still breathes. We wait in vigil, both near and far.

PS: The afternoon of this posting, November 27, 2016, my mother Connie died peacefully with my brother and sister present. Now she knows the “big secret”of what is dying. Hallelujah.

Seventy-the bridge to somewhere

sunset

sunset

It’s heartwarming to be welcomed home; to have people notice that Ann and I are more in residence in our community than we were a year ago. However, when well-meaning people inquire, “does this mean you’re retired?” something weird happens inside me that I have been sorting for months.

It may be my own outdated stereotypes of the word that are getting stirred up, but my unabridged Random House Dictionary of the English Language informs me of the following definitions: “retire; 1. To withdraw, to go away or apart from; to remove from active life,” or “retired; no longer occupied with one’s business or profession;” or “retirement, …2. Removal or withdrawal from service.”

This sure doesn’t fit what goes on around here where the work of sustaining island life is hugely augmented by volunteering and vibrant 60-70-80-year-olds—and my still volunteering and vibrant 96-year-old father!

Okay, I am 70 years old. We have publically and proudly announced passing our circle facilitation trainings to TheCircleWay.net. BUT— I am still teaching my memoir class, The Self as the Source of the Story, two times a year, along with selective mentoring with other writers. Ann Linnea, Deb Greene-Jacobi, and I are still leading our annual Cascadia wilderness quest. PeerSpirit, Inc. is still a half-time job.

writing w/ tea

writing w/ tea

Alongside remaining work commitments are family commitments, community service, gardening—writing—singing in the community choir, helping friends and neighbors in even bigger transitions than we are, and occasionally even relaxing over coffee/tea or dinner with folks we haven’t seen in way too long a time! The days do not feel “retired”—unless all this busyness IS retirement. If so, we need another word.

Boomers are trying to make a new word. “Refirement,” “rebooting,” “ruppies” (retired urban professionals)—cute, but not satisfying. I saw a man in the grocery store wearing a tee-shirt that proclaimed, “I’m retired, but I still work part-time as a pain-in-the-ass”— sort of funny, but also not the definition I’m seeking.

I feel myself on a bridge crossing from one stage of life to the next. It feels important. Not only to me, but to others in the generation of Boomers. We have been both championed and chastised for changing expectations about our lives at every stage of aging, from puberty on. The 70s decade is our last big chance to discern what remains for us to do.

img_6893

In my unwillingness to “withdraw from active life…to remove myself from service,” I am not yet certain what I expect of myself, or what the world hopes I will step into for another ten years.

When I was 21 and a junior in college, the head of the English department plucked me out of his advanced Shakespeare course and told me he thought I’d make a good English professor. I was flattered, but stunned—academia had never occurred to me. I blurted out at him (this was 1967), “I can’t do that, there’s a war on! I am more likely to be in prison by age 25 than in graduate school.”

It was a defining moment in my life: I chose the path of the outsider rather than the insider. I did not go to prison, though some of the men in my class went for draft resistance while others went into the draft. Before I was 25, I moved to California and worked for the American Friends Service Committee. I went to Europe and worked for the British Friends Service Council. I went to Gaza and Israel and worked with Quaker-based child and youth programs. I came back to the US and began figuring out how to be an activist writer. My mantra for all my work has been, “Inform-Inspire-Activate.”

I am still asking, what is my remaining life mission? I see the vibrant years of elderhood, (however long we have the health and energy to remain engaged) as an invitation to radical attention and thoughtful action.

Now, instead of getting ready to leave college for my work years as I was in 1967, it is suddenly 2016, and I am leaving my work years for my “X” years—a redefined involvement that goes deep, perhaps goes smaller in scale, and hopefully harvests my years of experience.

On this bridge to somewhere the world’s needs press around me as I contemplate my choices and I bow to the incredible privilege to have a life that supports choice. I want to stay more local, to support the next generation, to tend to the final years of our beloved parents, and the childhood years of our beloved grandchildren. I also do not feel done making contributions to the world outside my friends/family.

I am looking for what gestures I can make into the world’s need that will be most effective and impactful. I watch the events at Standing Rock, see things go by in social media, and I want to serve as a catalyst and supporter of catalysts as we go through this agonizing process of “changing our minds” about what we will tolerate and what we will save.

I vow to stay awake. I vow to listen to the pleas for justice. I will place my actions where I dare. I will use my elderhood as an opportunity for taking risk.

Join me?

Anyway you want.

Let me know your thoughts.

img_6772

My life is a full-time job

Just before heading back to airport.

Just before heading back to airport.

I emerge from two weeks of “Grandma Camp” and family time, and realize that it’s April and I’m about to turn 70 years old! The world is greening around me— asparagus is up, tulips are peaking, and our flowering crab apple tree is having a glorious bloom after soaking winter rains. I am profoundly thankful to be surrounded by this beauty; and I know it is impermanent, and I know I am impermanent.

The old tree still blooms

The old tree still blooms

Turning 70 is a big deal—and a privilege. Not everyone gets here… mortality is more real to me than in the decade behind me when I jokingly said, “Every year is like a speed limit—life seems to be moving faster and faster.” Well, 70 is a shift into the larger mystery. I intend to use it well—the day, the year, and (with health and good fortune) the decade.

Last August, when my friend Barbara Borden turned 70, I began thinking of the nine months preceding my own 70th birthday as a gestational time. Barbara and I proclaim that she was born on the day I was conceived, so I anticipated a period to reflect, assess, and set goals. I imagined the winter of handing on The Circle Way as a moment of breath and redefinition, exploring how our educational company, PeerSpirit might articulate its own transition. I began a correspondence with several friends in the turning-70-cohort exploring the meaning of this passage for us. I thought I could hang on to this thread, but life happened and took up all that contemplative space. Mom-care and other family concerns, the work and complex communication required to serve on the neighborhood association board as we face repairing the bluff/beach access, the ongoing transition needs of work, and and and…

It seems there   is no easy fix to anything anymore.

I want to think of this coming decade as a golden era in which I can bring together my two life passions of activism and story. I want to be a walking/talking/writing antidote to the frenzy of tweets and texts and fractured sound-bytes that stream off the devices we now carry with us everywhere. I seek opportunities every day to practice transforming experience into story and making a narrative that leads to greater civility and cooperation. Hey let’s just be us: listening, speaking, framing a world we can stand in together.

I am writing a book because the story keeps welling up inside me in spite of everything that calls me away and pulls at my time and attention. These characters are my birthday present. I don’t know what will come of it, only that I am dedicated to this particular story. I want to live long enough to tell this tale. I don’t know why it’s important beyond my own creative fantasy, just that it is.

When acquaintances ask, “So how’s retirement?” I don’t know how to answer. The word seems irrelevant and meaningless to my actual life. I don’t know what to say because saying anything is a much longer story than they may be expecting in a brief encounter, so I just smile and tell them, “I’m not retired. Being myself @ 70 is a full-time job.”

This blog entry is the beginning of a longer story that I intend to dip into this year: what does it mean to turn 70, to stand in the privilege of age and aging? What do I choose as I face into a decade that may well be my last full-on shot of contribution and energy? What remains mine to do now in regards to the larger issues around me? How will I expend and celebrate the strengths I have and admit the fading of strengths as I notice them? How do I come home?

Self @ 69...

Self @ 69…

To begin, Ann and I are heading into a five-day birthday retreat—off line, just us and Gracie, and a nearby island to explore. Alone and together, in silence and circle, turning a funky beach cabin into sanctuary. My gestational imagery returns… along with the labor of giving birth to myself in the new now.