Over time I have discovered how really kind God, the Universe, the Cosmic Intelligence, the What-ya-ma-call-it is. There is no doubt. I used to complain about losing my eyesight and having to wear glasses to read until one day I put on my glasses to look in the mirror at something on my face and … Oh mien Gott!!!! I’ll never do that again! The Universe has a very good reason to take away my eyesight: that way I can’t actually see the amount of wrinkles my face has developed! Now I keep the light in the bathroom low (normal bulbs, never neon light) and make sure my glasses are off before I look. I don’t even wear glasses to put makeup on or squeeze a pimple; verboten!
When I was expecting my second child I also noticed how kind and intelligent Life was. Everything went fine up until the last month and then, without warning, the baby dropped, and I mean DROPPED. Suddenly its (those were the days before we knew the sex prenatally) head was resting directly on my pubic bone and every time I sat down I had to do it with great care both so as not to kill the tiny thing with a fatal blow on the crown, and not to feel as if my own insides were exploding. The ninth month was torture, so when the date the gynaecologist (and they are never right) had given me rolled around I was more than ready to face childbirth or any other physical torture necessary to get that thing out of me: life had more than prepared me for the event. And even if the baby had not dropped, the ninth month of pregnancy is usually very, very uncomfortable, enough so that facing the pain of giving birth does not seem as daunting as it might otherwise.
Today I begin to realize that Life, likewise, prepares us for death by taking away –little by little- the things that make living so terribly enjoyable: good looks, energy and, most times, physical health. I have noticed how small aches and pains have crept slowly into my existence, becoming more frequent and more difficult to overcome with each passing year. This shows no sign of getting better; quite the contrary: as the years stack up against me (or for me, all in the way you look at it) my patience with physical matters is forced to expand as greater time is spent looking for the right doctor for this or that ache, this or that ailment, and dedicating the time needed today to actually do something that alleviates or even –when I’m lucky- eliminates the ache or ailment. Life is wisely beginning to prepare me, for who would want to go in the bloom of youth if this continued up to the age where we actually began to acquire a wee bit of wisdom? Not I! But Life is there to remind me, today with a painful wrist, the ankle which has gotten much better but will never again let me walk for hours without violently protesting, and off and on the knee kicks in, to remind me that –as the song goes- that “The old grey mare ain’t what she used to be”.
This is not bad; it is even good in many ways, as long as we are not fixated on gone youth and trying hopelessly and ridiculously to look (and feel) twenty five again. Slight pain, occasional twinges, less get-up-and-go than used to be there, gives us time to look more closely at things. The days themselves begin to seem longer, and there are nuances of light and shadow, colourings, shapes of flowers or the special intricate gnarling of a tree trunk that catch our dimming eyesight and hold it much longer than they used to. There is a newfound appreciation for the vibrancy of life as it runs through everything leaving its shimmering effect not only on the retina but also on the soul. Life is good or, as Doug’s Grandfather, as he lay dying, said to him: Life is sweet.
Another sweetness that seeps into life as the years pass, that adds buoyancy to the moment and increases the sense of pleasure while at the same time diminishing the need to really do anything about it or with it (that youth so often has) is the understanding that the purpose is in the living, not in the obtaining anything or getting anywhere, and the living is this, just this and nothing more. Youth is about the going and the getting; as one ages, life is about just being, keeping still, allowing the moments to stretch, allowing time to cease to exist, watching the present present itself as it is, no pretences, no meaning, no ultimate purpose other than being.
Today, driving to Orthez (something I do quite often as I acquire the necessary furniture for the house) I was gifted the most extraordinary sunset, scattered pink clouds behind which an almost full moon peeked and hid, against the pale blue of a waning sky. The beauty was breathtaking, and then –as if it weren’t enough already- the Pyrenees reared white and majestic against the horizon. As my eyes took in what no human will ever be capable of creating, my heart burst wide open with gratitude that I should have the privilege of contemplating such a work or art.
I notice how I actually have more time now than ever before and this has increased my sense of pleasure and wellbeing. I have never in my life been bored that I remember; I have very little idea of what boredom might feel like. Solitude and stillness are experiences to be savoured. Like this very moment in Salies, as I write this piece, while the stillness of just a moment ago is filled suddenly with the ringing of church bells as the parish nearby announces Sunday evening mass. As I sit and just listen, allowing the sound to enter my whole body as the breath enters it without my ever making any effort, I notice how there seems to be a special joy here in the ringing of the bells for they rollick loudly for quite a while before slowly dying down: the sound diminishing as if the church itself were going off into the distance, its voice becoming fainter and fainter without actually ending for a long, long time. They have rung now for over 8 minutes and diminishing in frequency and loudness, they continue to do so until suddenly one ceases to know if it is still the bells very faintly ringing or if the ear has grown so accustomed to the sound that it now produces it without any external stimulus. And then there is silence again, the silence of evening when the insects stop flying and the birds cease their chirping, when the woods seem to hush themselves to sleep.
So, along with the wrinkles and the loss of eyesight, and the occasional (still) aches and pains comes a love of silence and solitude, a capacity for basking in the peace that settles with the knowledge of what all the gurus in the world say: What is, is… and we don’t get to vote.