“But there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears. And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears. Get over your hill and see what you find there, with grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.” –Mumford and Sons
These days, the dinner hour is the cruelest time of day. On the fortunate days when I happen to be with others (read my sweet family members), then preparing, serving and eating dinner is alright, it is really fine. But on those other days when I find myself alone and faced with cooking and eating dinner with only me for company, that is when those lonesome blues sneak around, filling the cracks and crevices of my soul with an unshakable melancholy. After years of cooking dinner for two each evening, and then sitting down to feast after feast, served with candlelight and wine, my new habit of cooking and eating alone, sometimes with a book and othertimes just me and the plate, is the nightly reminder of my newly acquired single status. Quite frankly, I do not enjoy it.
Just in the past couple of days, I have begun to feel a little hopeful again. After plummeting to the very depths during the twelve holy nights of Christmas, this week brings me some glimmerings of possibilities, of a future that could be filled with meaning, where I am living for a larger purpose and making a positive difference in others’ lives. I can nearly see this future me, happily busy at the work of creating good here in the place I find myself now. Perhaps there is hope for me yet, a small voice quietly tells me, where I can serve others in positive ways, where my voice and my actions will actually improve lives and consequently the world. Where I matter. Where I help a suffering humanity in the ways that I can, that I invent and am inspired to create. A future where self-centeredness gives way to working for the Greater Good. Where I can finally realize my long-held dreams of doing something for the world.
Mary Oliver once wrote that when death comes, she wants to be able to say that all her life she was a bride married to amazement. I think she always knew that she had it in her to do amazing, incredible things with her life, and so she went ahead and did them, through poetry and teaching and observing life and nature. For me, she embodies a life well lived, a beautiful marriage of giving oneself to the world and at the same time, making sure she always had enough time for herself, for solitude and contemplation. She has had the great fortune of a grace-filled life. She can rest in the knowledge that through her efforts, she has touched and inspired millions of people across the world. In my own humble way, I would love to be able to say, at the end of my life, that I too have been a bride married to amazement. That I too did something artistic and wonderful and giving which made a difference to others’ lives. That people grew for having known me, that they found a creative part of themselves which they hadn’t quite been able to access before. That knowing me inspired them in some way, and made their lives richer than it would have otherwise been. I don’t think this is purely an ego-desire on my part, but rather a sincere desire to share my gifts, to fulfill the purpose I was born to fulfill. I have spent the vast majority of my life not having much of a clue of what I was put on this earth to do. Finally, at mid-life, past my prime, my physical self going to the other side of that hill we all must eventually descend, I am beginning to see, starting to know why I am here, and what it is that I wish to do with my remaining time.
It is not difficult to waste one’s life on trivialities and petty dramas. People do it all the time. We humans are masters of making mountains out of molehills, and conversely, denying and covering up our actual pain and suffering so that we don’t have to deal with them. We are all grappling with being in these human forms, and the difficulties of embodiment on earth at this time. We are all aware of the consequences of this life: addictions, violence, separation, depression, suicide, dissolution, despair, desperation. What can we do, how can we deal with our anxieties and fears?
Everybody has a story to tell here. The biggest favor we can do for each other is to listen to another tell their story. Not with judgment or condemnation, but simply for the fact that they will heal by telling it, eventually. Many of us love to read stories, whether fiction or factual matters not. We love certain characters in a novel, play or movie because he seems all too familiar, because we see ourselves in her. My story is a little bit yours too. Okay, now I don’t feel quite so alone out here on the high seas of life. Your story has given me a lifeline, something I can hold onto, a way to help me get back to shore. When I am feeling low and alone, and like no one else in the universe cares or remembers that I exist, when eating alone the tenth night in a row is making me feel completely miserable, or when the demons come in the middle of night and attack me with their punishing thoughts, what can I do? Give in, lay down in a puddle on the floor and want to end it all? No. I will not give into fear and thoughts of hopelessness. Somehow I must find strength within myself to climb out of the hole, to hold on until the morning, to find hope that I will again one day be cooking for two or twenty. Because I am not only doing this work for myself, but for every other lonely and afraid human out there also. My struggle, my battle with the darkness of my soul is everyone’s battle. The single most important work that any of us can do now, is to embrace the love and light within ourselves, while acknowledging the darkness and pain there too, and work to find all the ways, big and small, to shine it upon the world. Every single day.
By now, I am way beyond self-help books and pep talks (even though I sometimes still read and listen to them.) Life is about more than that, and is much, much more complex. Good advice is all well and good, but the times are calling for something far deeper and greater. Our world needs compassion like never before. It can be the smallest gesture, a smile or a friendly greeting to another human as we walk down the street. It can also be simply noticing others, from people to the birds in the tree above your head. Every gesture counts. Every thought also.
I am working on marrying amazement now. When I learn how to truly love what is in my own heart, it will automatically free me to love everyone and everything else which appears to be outside of me. The illusion is that there is any separation. I love you.