Truth as bright as phosphorescence

My heart is full today. A beloved friend is nearing the end of a long, exceedingly courageous journey with cancer.  Moment by moment, she is being called upon to let go of this physical world and to open to mysteries beyond our human understanding.  Watching the sunrise at 6:30 this morning, walking in the woods, touching my husband’s arm, I tried to live and love and pay attention enough for both of us, for a friend who is not ready to leave this earth and for myself, so fully occupied upon it.  I wondered whether — if I could only be grateful enough, notice enough, feel deeply enough — I might somehow occupy both realms at once, material and spiritual.  “Write me the mundane details of your life,” she e-mailed the other night, from her hospital bed.  I try to do that.  And each time I pause, and look, and gather up some small bouquet of mundane details, what I see is not ordinariness but evidence:  this world in which we are blessed to live is full of meaning, beauty, and holiness.

Katrina Kenison wrote this on her blog recently, and moved me (as she almost always does, to be honest) to tears.  I thought, again, about the gossamer veil that separates us from the next world, about the almost-inconceivably abstract idea of death.  What does it mean, really, to die?  I honestly don’t comprehend that entirely.

Again, I thought about the tragic truth that it is only when we are aware of our time being limited (as Katrina’s friend) that we really appreciate it.  Somehow, death or illness brushing up against us is the only guaranteed way of showing us how sacred our ordinary lives are.

One of my very best and oldest friends was diagnosed with breast cancer at 28 (we are the exact same age).  She is in remission, and is doing extremely well, but that experience forever altered her previously-blithe assumption of how her life would unfold.  My mother’s best friend (and my second mother) died at 49 after a difficult battle with pancreatic cancer.  My father-in-law received a life-saving heart transplant on Grace’s one-month birthday (and his 36th wedding anniversary) and is still thriving.

In short, I’ve felt the chill of illness, witnessed the death of those I cherish and feared those of others.  And still, still, I cannot find it in myself to appreciate more fully the details of this one magic life I get. Why?  Katrina’s message reminded me, again, of the paucity of my gratitude, of the total insufficiency of my praise for this immense, extraordinary gift.

Sometimes this truth – the grandeur of my everyday life and the critical importance of honoring it – flashes in front of me, as bright as phosopherescence and as fleeting.  Like those unexpected, bright swirls of glowing light in a night sea, the realization leaves an imprint on the back of my eyelids, a tangible reminder of something witnessed, something important from a place beyond rational thought.

I owe it to Jessica, to Susie, to John, I think often, to be more grateful, more aware, more present.  And so today I recommit, as I have done so many times, to cultivating true awareness.  To realizing the beauty in the bouquets of mundane details that Katrina cites.  To not wait for calamity to realize that my days here are not long.

As it so often does, my monkey mind springs to another quotation, more words.  And I can’t get Adlai Stevenson’s famous words out of my head now.  I believe this was from a Princeton graduation address (and of course that makes it ever dearer to me) but it could easily be to any of us, at any time, inhabitants of this lovely place, this earth, where our days are short.

Your days are short here; this is the last of your springs. And now in the serenity and quiet of this lovely place, touch the depths of truth, feel the hem of Heaven. You will go away with old, good friends. And don’t forget when you leave why you came.


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16 Comments

  1. Posted September 20, 2010 at 5:11 am | Permalink

    I recommitted to the same thing over the weekend (surprise surprise!)… to not take this all for granted and to see each moment for what it is, such a gift.
    This was a perfect read for a Monday morning. Thank you…

  2. Posted September 20, 2010 at 5:18 am | Permalink

    A haunting, but beautiful reminder. Reading this, I will recommit too.

  3. Posted September 20, 2010 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    I second Aidan’s comment. She captured my sentiments exactly. As always, Lindsey, thank you.

  4. Posted September 20, 2010 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    Beautiful and thought-provoking, as always, Lindsey. I know what you mean. When my dad died unexpectedly at 67, the grief turned me inside out, letting life touch me in a way it hadn’t previously. I also felt bolder about decisions and taking chances. But it’s easy to fall back into complacency. I think it’s Anne Lamott who sometimes shakes herself out of it by saying, “Okay, dying today. What do I do next?”

    admin Reply:

    YES … this is the quote by Anne that I go back to over and over:
    “But about a month before my friend Pammy died, she said something that may have permanently changed me. We had gone shopping for a dress for me to wear that night to a nightclub with the man I was seeing at the time. Pammy was in a wheelchair, wearing her Queen Mum wig, the Easy Rider look in her eyes. I tried on a lavender minidress, which is not my usual style. I tend to wear big, baggy clothes. People used to tell me I dressed like John Goodman. Anyway, the dress fit perfectly, and I came out to model it for her. I stood there feeling very shy and self-conscious and pleased. Then I said, ‘Do you think it makes my hips look too big?’ and she said to me slowly, ‘Annie? I really don’t think you have that kind of time.’”

    –Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

    Elizabeth @claritychaos Reply:

    Love this. Was going to comment on the whole (to tell you how beautiful it is) but had to pop in here. Thanks for the laugh out loud.

    xoox

  5. Posted September 20, 2010 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    Hi dear one. I am covered in goose bumps because of the beauty of your words and the amazing connectedness of our minds this morning…

    I commit, too. I do. xo

  6. Posted September 20, 2010 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    It’s lovely that you’ve transcended sadness here in lieu of beauty and hope. Having lost my second mother and a few others to cancer, I’m deeply familiar with the love that’s in loss. And you’re right – to truly live and appreciate it only when you brush too close to that is tragic. Cheers to recognizing the gift of life full-time.

  7. Posted September 20, 2010 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    I’m sorry about your friend. I have lost several to cancer or disaster, and it always leaves you raw and searching.

    I also tend to think of Lamott in times like these, although I usually think of Pammy saying that the bonus to terminal cancer was “never having to see another picture of a naked and pregnant Demi Moore on a magazine cover.”

  8. Posted September 20, 2010 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    true. life is magic. death is near. also true. rebirth (like a new heart).

    and you lindsey are a gift. thank you.

  9. Posted September 20, 2010 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    I am sad for you and am going through something similar, my dear uncle is fighting a battle he cannot win. I visited him this weekend and it always makes me a better parent. It puts things into perspective. Your post made me realize why. Unconsciously I, too, have recommitted.

  10. Posted September 20, 2010 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    Lindsey, I’m so sorry to hear the news about your friend. Thank you for using this bitter occasion to provide us all with such an important reminder.

  11. Posted September 20, 2010 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    This moved me to tears, both Katrina’s words and your own. I’d never heard Stevenson’s address before, either. Thank you for being such a grounding, enlightening voice. I feel so blessed that you continually speak from the heart and share it with the world. xo

  12. Posted September 20, 2010 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    I am struck again, as I most often am when I visit here, with the ripples, how yours so often touch mine, and others.

    I just found out today (hours ago) a good, dear friend has breast cancer.

    They caught it early, before it spread, the diagnosis is good (as good as it can be with cancer). This friend of mine started a blog to share the information she’s learning with others. And it knocked me to my knees to read her quip that she’s still enjoying tacos with her family and jokes with her kids.

    Also, within the same 24 hours, I read this quote (randomly) by Nikki Giovanni,

    “[I]f it takes a near-death experience for you to appreciate your life, you’re wasting somebody’s time.”

    Wow is that.

  13. Posted September 21, 2010 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    While none of us, if we’re completely honest, have any answers to the unanswerable questions (which is why we look to quotes that resonate and stories that carry spirit) our questions and our pain (as well as gratitude and life spirits) offer opportunity to wander together into the whole thing, taking interest in the experience and finding love for each other along the way. A verbose way, I apologize for that, for trying to say I hear you and wish you (and all who run into each other here) whatever good is possible right now.

  14. Posted September 21, 2010 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    Beautiful. A necessary reminder to appreciate what is in front of you. After my father’s passing, I struggle with trying to live in the present, while thinking of my own and my loved ones meeting with mortality.

    The title to this piece is breathtaking.

    Thank You Lindsay.

  15. Posted September 23, 2010 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Beautiful. Tender. Heart-breaking open. Thank you.

  16. Posted September 23, 2010 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    Thank you for this:

    “Sometimes this truth – the grandeur of my everyday life and the critical importance of honoring it – flashes in front of me, as bright as phosopherescence and as fleeting. Like those unexpected, bright swirls of glowing light in a night sea, the realization leaves an imprint on the back of my eyelids, a tangible reminder of something witnessed, something important from a place beyond rational thought.”

    This theme – this fleeting life – and the truly holy process of how it tapers off — is following me this week. And instead of fear or worry there is a peaceful sense coming through. What beauty there is in your words.