THE HERMITAGE

My  hermitage

Is thatched

With morning glories.

Issa

A few years ago when I was in my early 60’s and coming to terms with mortality, I remembered the aspirations I’d had when young, then evaluated what had been accomplished and what had been left behind.

Life never turns out as we expect – it is at once much better and much worse. It holds to no carefully considered strategic plan, at least in my experience. Instead life is a hodge podge of intention, chance, bad judgment, willfulness, the actions of others and serendipity. It is a rare person, indeed, who ends up where he or she expected with provisions made for eventualities.

Unlike those who were born with an undeniable talent or destiny, I did not know what I wanted be when I grew up. I had no real thirst for fame or riches or power. It was truer to say that I knew only what I did not want to be (not this, not that). I did not want to be conventional, I did not want to be safe. I did not want to be bored. I wanted to burn like a flaming rocket and then go out.

I wanted to have adventures and live large – and in my generation that was almost wishing to be born a man. The women I knew or had read about were mothers and teachers and nurses. All my heroes were men. I wanted to be St. Exupery or Kahlil Gibran or Krishnamurti or Thor Hyerdahl. I read about Sir Richard Burton, pyramids and ancient bones in desert sands.

In my small town, in my family, in my heritage, there were no artists or poets or adventurers. There were no discussions of art or music or culture or history around the dinner table. In the critical years of growing up, my horizons had not been stretched wide enough nor high enough.

I did not learn of the brave and exciting women who were living their dream. That discovery came later after crossroads had been encountered and dies already cast. So my early life did not include all of the possible possibilities; but it did contain some very important and satisfying conventional probabilities including marriage and children.

But during the time of reflection I mentioned earlier, I was entering the final third of my life. Most responsibilities had been fulfilled and there was opportunity now to choose again. The question now was not “what did I want to be when I grew up,” but “what did I want to be as I grew old.”

By now my longings for physical and intellectual adventure had been replaced by the exhilaration of creative and spiritual forays. I had in my mind’s eye the idealized hermitage of the Zen monk where there would be time for reading and poetry and art and flowers. I would be free of the need to labor in the outer world and live in a small home covered in morning glories just like the haiku described.

Then the other day as I was sitting on the patio, I thought how nice window boxes would look along the wrought iron fencing, and how lovely morning glories would be twining in and out and around. I suddenly realized – I was living in my Zen hermitage. Perhaps it did not have the quaint thatched roof I had imagined, nor was not located within a leafy glade beside a rippling stream. Perhaps I did not have tatami mats on the floor and sliding screens for walls, or a miniature landscape in the yard.

But I did have books and art and music and freedom. There was still a flame within the embers. And in the spring I would have morning glories outside my door.

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