Eden’s Worm

Although the mind may admit to the knowledge that life is cyclical, knowing it as true comes only with years. While in middle age I would believe that someday ‘things’ would settle down and peace and harmony reign, by my 50’s I had to accept that things really never settle down, peace and harmony do not endure. Granted there are short spaces in the cycle where all is well – or all is lost – but these times do not last, they transform.

There is never a period in life where relationships are good, the job is great, the kids are healthy and drug free, the car starts every morning and there’s some money in the bank. At least, these don’t all happen at the same time – or if they do that time is short before one or the other starts to move and creates a new cycle.

In my forties I fought this understanding but finally life wore me down and by my 50’s I was ready to call uncle and release my hope that the future would be any better than the present. With the relinquishment of that desire I began to learn to live in the present. What catalyzed that change of perspective was a brush with mortality which taught me that I, like every other living thing, was a string being spun out by one of three sisters, one of which held a big pair of shears.

But this living in the present is not as easy as may first appear. What is required is the reining in of thought, that vigilance and control is the key to safety, to life, to eternity. Vigilance bears a heavy price tag paid with anxiety, high blood pressure, tension, rigidity, fear, and a stubborn willfulness. In essence, what we are trying to do is to get ahead of the wave of being and make the way smooth, harmless and accommodating. Our fear of the unknown and the unexpected breeds in the mind like a worm in the apple, and like the worm, burrows its subterranean way beneath everyday notice.

While we rejoice in the medical report which tells us the disease is in remission, we secretly wonder if and when the other shoe will drop. As we celebrate the new job we wonder if our real competence may finally be exposed; we watch for the first dent in the new car; or wonder if our relationships are as strong as we hope they are. In our desire to live ‘successfully’ we instead learn to live hesitantly. We learn to live without trust – in ourselves, in Life, in the Bigger Picture.

This life is our personal garden and we fear being tossed out of this Eden by sword-wielding angels for our audacious, but often ignorant, behavior. So we surround ourselves by agreeing to thou-shalt-nots to leverage our chances that we will assuage the anger of an invisible god who licks his pencil and keeps score, little realizing that it is our own thoughts that hold the pencil and make the check.

There is no certainty but change as Heraclitus stated and it is our reluctance to embrace that truth that keeps us up at night as it keeps us from the exhilaration of feeling truly alive. If we hold on too tight, we never learn to fly, or ride a bike, or float on our backs, or feel love but spend our years squinting at the future and making contingency plans and waiting for what we fear most to arrive.

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Pensee

Dawn comes early in the summer but by the time the sunlight hits the tops of the trees outside my patio, day has already arrived, bringing with it a cool delta breeze and the murmur of a distant train heading southward, its wail rolling across the bluing sky. The beginnings and endings of days are made for pause and reflection, or even better, a waiting emptiness marked with peace.

The cat slips in and out and over the decorative fence and begins her morning round of inspection, smelling the bumpers of parked cars, the bush where last night she captured the gray-green lizard, the steps where noisy neighbors haul up paper bags of groceries and beer. She looks over her shoulder at me, then slips behind the flowering agapanthus, only to appear a few seconds later at the corner of the walk, once again looking to see if I am looking too; and our eyes meet.

These eyes I look through see into this dimension I have, in concert with others, created. I carry the vague recollection of last night’s dreams, the ache in my calf where the cramp bit so unexpectedly, my scent lingering in the warm bed covers. I awake to a grey day and speculate if the sky’s sad countenance is due to the summer fires to the south where last winter’s grass now stands high and dry and asking to go to ash.

As I sit I give thanks to Life for staying with this body another day, offering another chance to drink deep of its bounty. Now that I am 72 I have a clearer perspective of death’s inevitable arrival. I now understand that 80 years is a decent span, not one that requires more and more extension. The fingers of both hands can count out that remaining allotment of time and I ask myself if there is anything more I need to do, to see, to experience, and I answer that time has now become Grace.

If I had to do over this life, or better if/when I have another chance to do again, what choices would I make different in direction than the ones I made here and now, and I must respond I would have liked more time in nature, living beside wild trees and free streams and open skies; to have known the names of berries, the species of birds and their preferences; to have seen the great flocks migrating and heard the thunder rolling over the prairies.

Perhaps in the next life I shall come back as an animal and experience once again the beauty of the physical, leaving behind the torment that accompanies too much thinking and planning and fearing. How would it feel to be in the body of a deer, a crane, a bobcat, a wren singing in a bush at daybreak? How does life look seeing out of amber eyes?