I am in my home today, listening to the sound of chain saws (not my favorite melody, to be sure). I have a cedar tree on my property that is leaning in a way that does not bode well, should it come down completely at some point. The arborist counseled that it is time to have it taken down. And so, I have been listening to the sound of the chain saws, and listening with my heart to the sound of a tree being destroyed. It breaks my heart to have to cut down trees, and yet I know that there are times that it is necessary. I live in California, so there can be many reasons to cut down trees, not the least of which is fire danger and needing to reduce the threat as much as possible. And there are safety reasons when trees get close to toppling over onto property and possibly people. The arborist that I work with donates cut trees to various causes, one of which is the local zoo (and since I volunteer with the elephants, who eat a lot of branches and bark, it is good to know that the trees continue to give and provide…in a different form.) And yet, I still experience and feel some grief for this lovely tree. It is a form of life, one that has been here for a while….and I have enjoyed having it near me. I see the pieces in my driveway and will watch them haul them away. Sadly. I grab a piece of a branch with leaves attached to it and put it on my fireplace mantle.
I am so interested to notice how much more sensitive to everything that I become as I continue to age. I seem to feel the pain of other creatures (having finally become mostly vegetarian …with the occasional fish meal that I will at some point also let go of), the pain of the earth (trees, plants, the ocean, the air and all the poisons that we humans have filled it with)….I can barely drive by some poor creature who has been accidentally hit by a car on the freeway. I cannot even tolerate thinking of my friend who hunts deer, although I appreciate the hunting that at least makes use of all of the animal for sustainment and nourishment. I have no tolerance for the hunting for “trophies”. I have no understanding for the senseless slaughter of elephants so that trinkets can be made out of the ivory of their tusks. I get sad when I think of all the species facing extinction – like the polar bears -who starve for food in a climate that can no longer sustain what they need to live.
I wonder, as we age, does our heart increase in its capacity to feel all of this more? I hear about all the declines and loss of functioning that comes with aging – but I am interested to notice all the gains (not just the weight around my middle..! We must hold tight to our sense of humor….) that also seem to be coming with aging. I feel more sensitive to the pain of others. I feel more sensitive to the ever growing list of losses that also seem to come with aging – loss of friends, loss of family, loss of others who help us hold our history and our past and our story. I have no siblings, and now that my parents are gone, and with no other family around me, I feel the loss of others who remember all the pieces of me from different times of my life. I grieve that.
I have written before how grief now feels like a familiar companion to me. I resign myself to this, inviting grief in to sit with me so that I can learn what it has to teach me, painful as the lesson may be. It also teaches me to appreciate each moment more, how precious each second of life is …how fleeting it is and how quickly it passes by. I still sometimes cannot quite believe that I have reached the age that I have. Where did all those years go? And, what do I really want to do with the time that I am graced enough to have left? What do I do until it is my time to be removed, cut down, let go of, pass on? Perhaps this increased sensitivity is a gift – so that I can focus on what truly feels important.
What has become more and more important to me has been to have quality time alone now that my focus is no longer on the job and career, having retired over a year ago. Quality time for me is quiet time to sit and listen to what may be going on inside me. What have I perhaps neglected all these years? What is this inner voice (that I am so grateful to still be able to hear, to know that it (I) is still there)…what does this inner voice have to say to me, to others? What can I express, both in verbal word and in written word, to share some of what I have learned, to share some of my experiences that some others may perhaps be able to relate to? What do I need to say? What do I need to express? What do I need to honor and acknowledge?
It seems to be a time of letting go. I have worked on my estate planning (strange experience, to plan and work with the idea of one’s own death). I have begun the long and challenging process of de-cluttering – how much I have hung onto and carried around with me that no longer serves a purpose…I think about where I should live, about possible retirement communities, about the declines that come with aging, about what and how to best take care of myself or be somewhere I can get some help if and when needed…..How, now when I think about where to live, I think about needing to be somewhat close to medical facilities…..not a consideration in my younger years….Each stage of aging brings new challenges and gifts, I think. Until the ultimate gift of needing to let go…..let go completely….of everything. Will anyone hold a piece of a memory of me anywhere? Does it really matter?
And so this lovely cedar tree has given me one final gift. The gift of acknowledging its end, of appreciating its life, of feeling the loss and once again opening up to all the losses that have come before and the losses yet to come….The gift of being in the present moment, feeling all that it brings (joyful and painful alike), of appreciating and breathing in the very gift of life.