Posted in General Interest, Illness/life-threatening illness, Jamie Dedes, poem, Poems/Poetry, Poets Against War Week

Our Sighs Ride the Ebb-tides of Eternity …

 

On May 28, our group for people with life-threatening illnesses celebrated the lives of those who have already passed on. I was unable to attend the memorial service due to bronchitis, but I celebrate them, two of my family, and this wonderful group here today.

Our group is composed of people from several different religious traditions and is hosted by our local Insight Meditation Center. The group was founded and is run by a Buddhist chaplain who has been very kind and is a stalwart friend to each of us.

I no longer attend meetings. By some surely unearned grace, I am now considered “chronic and stable” and I’ve grown to the point that the news of death no longer disturbs me. The major take-away for me from this experience is that the only difference between having a medically predicted expiration date and not knowing when our time will come is that with a diagnosis, we no longer fall into those moments of denial. That’s a huge gift. Huge! The result is that we become present in each moment. 

Today, is my loving celebration of: Ann, Deborah, Dick, Ernie, Hilda, Mary, Parvathy, Robert, Mary Kate, Steve, Victor and to family lost in recent years: my former husband, Kirby (the most decent man I’ve ever known), and my cousin, Christopher, with whom I grew-up and who was like a brother … 

Each moment and every person is precious and beautiful and the only thing that really matters is how much we have loved and been loved and that – as survivors – we continue to live in the service of our families and those in need. In the end it would seem that’s the best way to honor the family and friends whose memory we treasure .

IMG_20140525_103644407Eternity flowed deftly through the last eight years
enfolding in her stream eleven with whom we
contemplated Knowledge and Mortality
Looking back, we ponder amazed at love among friends,
……….it blossoms fragrant, as gentle
……….as a dewy rose among thorns and thistles
We thrash and crawl and climb
……….puzzling
……….over the sea and fire that stalks us
Our hearts, cupped in one another’s hands
……….like castanets, beat in unison
Our measured moments grave lines in phantom fears,
……….they float like storm clouds above us
In words of jade, we speak elegies and encomiums
Our smiles mask our sorrows and yearning
Our laughter is love grown wild
We see each other in a thousand shapes and dreams
……….and in nameless names
Our sighs ride the ebb tides of Eternity
…..Another moment:
…..and even the sun will die
…..but our lotus song will echo on ….
……….We have lived! We have loved!

© 2014, poem and photograph (yellow roses traditionally symbolize friendship), Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

Photo on 2014-03-31 at 17.16 #3unnamed-18JAMIE DEDES (The Poet by Day)~I am a medically retired (disabled) elder and the mother of married son who is very dear. I started blogging shortly after I retired as a way to maintain my sanity, to stay connected to the arts and the artful despite being mostly homebound. My Facebook pages are: Jamie Dedes (Arts and Humanities) and Simply Living, Living Simply.

With the help and support of talented bloggers and readers, I founded and host The Bardo Group because I feel that blogging offers a means to see one another – no matter our tribe – in our simple humanity, as brothers and sisters and not as “other.”

“Good work, like good talk or any other form of worthwhile human relationship, depends upon being able to assume an extended shared world.” Stefan Collini (b. 1947), English Literary Critic and Professor of English Literature at Cambridge

Posted in Essay, Jamie Dedes

ELDER POWER: Growing Strong in Broken Places

ELDER POWER:

Growing Strong in Broken Places

by

Jamie Dedes

Authors, like coins, grow dear as they grow old; It is the rust we value, not the gold. – Alexander Pope

Originally published in the now defunct California Woman.

I come to this place of Elder Power through the experience of a chronic, potentially life-threatening illness. Illness is many things. It is a mentor, not chosen, not welcome, but a mentor nonetheless. It is a challenge that often breaks the bonds of affection, the temper of the spine, and the sharpness of the mind. It is a reminder to everyone involved of his or her fragility and mortality. Everyone is touched: family, friends, and colleagues. Everyone is changed and the good or ill of it is largely choice

My family and friends want me to help others by writing from a more clinical perspective, but it seems to me that the clinical lessons are less important than the life lessons. It is the life lessons that give us the strength to keep going, that are the true value to be shared, and that make us elders. To me “elder” implies more than “senior” or “senior citizen,” which I see as demographic terms for people who have reached retirement age. A senior is someone who has merely put in time, while elder is about attitude and state of mind. Elder implies one who has learned a few things along the way.

As a writer, it is the life lessons, not the clinical ones, which inspire and inform my work. I have learned, for example, that all humans are in process and therefore imperfect; and that, no matter what our differences are, the most important things are to remain open to communication and to accept and release our own follies and those of others. I have learned that neither illness nor threat of death preclude joy. I have learned that people who are joyful rarely do harm to themselves or others. I have learned that fear of death has to be directly addressed and then firmly put aside in favor of the business of living. As the saying goes: “It’s not over until it’s over.” Until then, we have responsibilities to others and ourselves. The only real difference between someone who has a life- threatening illness and someone who doesn’t is that the former is no longer in denial.

“If people bring so much courage to this world, “ wrote Hemingway in A Farewell to Arms, “the world has to kill them to break them. The world beaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break, it kills. It kills the very good and the very brave and the very gentle impartially. If you are none of these it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

I am not good, or brave, or particularly gentle. Sometimes I let it all get me down. I descend into fear. I am impatient with process, with taking meds and going for seemingly endless tests and doctors’ appointments. Maybe that’s why I’ve outlived my original expiration date by ten years. My mother used to say, “Only the good die young.” My best quality may be that under my protective shell of intractability, I actually am willing to be broken and reformed. I suppose only time will tell if I have grown “strong at the broken places.”

So, here I stand, after twelve years of battle, at the dawn of a bright new day in a body that is now significantly disabled and quite a bit older. It’s still a good morning and a good body. I recognize I once dealt with a worse handicap than my current disabilities. That handicap is commonly referred to as “youth.” I survived. Maturity on the other hand is a true boon, a gift to savor and enjoy with layers of luxurious nuance I had not anticipated. I do not long for my youth. I love my graying hair. I love my wrinkles and the loose skin on my neck. I love the mild deformity of my feet. These things remind me that I am still here after all. I will not dye my hair, though I have. I will not get chemical injections or cosmetic surgery. I will not use rejuvenating grooming products that have been tested on defenseless animals. I am inspired by civil-rights-era African-Americans who sported Afros, said essentially “this is who we are and what we look like,” and chanted “black is beautiful.” I am graying. I am wrinkled. It’s all lovely and lyrical and makes me smile. It’s about ripeness, not rottenness. It’s honesty: what you see is what you get. Aging is beautiful. With maturity, one finds character refined and perspective broadened, energy expands and compassion flowers. The experience of joy comes more easily.

As survivors, we owe it to those who have gone on, to live in gratitude for this gift of a long life. How ungrateful and what an insult it is to them for us to bemoan our maturity and yearn for our youth as we so often do. What an incredible waste of time and energy such yearning is. Many don’t survive childhood in their impoverished and war-torn areas. Some others don’t survive childhood due to congenital or other diseases. My sister died by her own hand when she was twenty-seven. I have a wonderful, talented, smart friend in her mid-thirties who will pass within three months from this writing. Like you, I have relatives and friends who didn’t make it to fifty, much less sixty or seventy. All things considered, aging is a gift not a curse.

Some of our power comes from our sheer numbers. I read somewhere that we are some six hundred million strong worldwide. In each of our countries, we represent a huge political constituency, a lucrative market, and an enormous fount of energy, experience, and expertise. If that isn’t power in this modern world, what is? What a force for peace we could be. Some of our power comes from consciousness. We are awake now. We have learned how to live in the moment and how to live joyfully, hugely. That alone is a lesson to share. Some of our power comes from more time and focus. Many of us are retired or semi- retired or on disability, or soon will be. Implicit in that is the time to keep abreast of issues in our communities, countries, and our world. We can take the time and make the effort to get accurate information, to analyze carefully, and to share appropriately; that is, in a well considered, non-inflammatory, non-sensational manner. We can act with grit and grace.

Let us show that we are strong in the broken places. Let those of us who have this gift of long life seize on it and ply our elder power. Let’s live with joy, do good, and have fun. Most of all let us be generous with our love. Soon enough, when the time is ripe, our bodies will return to the earth. Our spirits will go wherever spirits go. The river of earthly life will continue to flow. Our children will see us reflected in the eyes of their children. Our grandchildren will strain to hear our voices in rustling leaves and breezes that whisper to them in the night. They will seek us out in moonlight and the warmth of the sun, in the roar of the oceans and the gentle meandering of a lazy brook. They will find us in the good earth and in the good hearts of the lives we’ve touched with concern and compassion.

© 2009  photo and essay, Jamie Dedes All rights reserved