Friday, December 19, 2008

I'm thinking about mortality tonight - a young mother whose blog I've been reading and who has been ill with sarcoma, but hoping for remission, recovery, just was placed in hospice care. My friend Paul came in today and reported that his brain tumor has shrunk again - good news - but he's still having seizures and his baby's only si weeks old. Both of these people, in the midst of their illnesses, seem richly alive, more present than many of us with good health, and I remember that kind of presence in Kerry when he was ill too (also before he was ill). I found a quote that expresses this quality of rich aliveness in face of death in “Kitchen Table Wisdom,” a book of reflections by Rachel Naomi Remen.

Telling about people with terrible illnesses who nonetheless choose to “show up for whatever life may offer,” she describes them as “in­tensely alive, intensely present.” She writes:

“From such people I have learned a new definition of the word ‘joy.’ I had thought joy to be rather synonymous with happiness, but it seems now to be far less vulnerable than happiness. Joy seems to be a part of an unconditional will to live, not holding back because life may not meet our preferences and expectations. Joy seems to be a function of the willingness to accept the whole, and to show up to meet with whatever is there. It has a kind of invincibility that attachment to any particular outcome would deny us. Rather than the warrior who fights toward a specific outcome and therefore is haunted by the specter of failure and disappointment, it is the lover drunk with the opportunity to love despite the possibility of love, the player for Surrendering our lives to God gives us the freedom to experience real joywhom playing has become more important than winning or losing.

“The willingness to win or lose moves us out of an adversarial relationship to life and into a powerful kind of openness. From such a position, we can make a greater commitment to life. Not only pleasant life, or comfortable life, or our idea of life, but all life. Joy seems more closely related to aliveness than to happiness.”


Mary said...

So sad about the young mother now in hospice. Hope that Paul will continue to hear good news.

I wonder if it is not that when one knows one has perhaps days or weeks or months left that one develops consciously a special kind of living which keeps one in tune always with what is happening in the VERY immediate present, as it is known that days are numbered. I think we can all SAY that we live in the present, or hope to, but if one knows that death is imminent TRULY it is a different reality and this is visible to others. Just my thought.

mary j. said...

Love the quote, on the rich aliveness you mention and the reflection on joy. I especially resonate with her thought, "I had thought joy to be rather synonymous with happiness, but it seems now to be far less vulnerable than happiness." I think of it as deeper, richer, more lasting – less vulnerable, in large part, because it is not dependent on external circumstances. Thanks for sharing it.

Judy said...

I can see why you would think about mortality with the people you know that are fighting for their lives.
Its so sad to read about the young mother who is being placed into hospice. We never know how long we have as you are well aware. I am glad the sad news is tempered with the good news from your friend, Paul. I will say a prayer for both these people.
I think loved ones of those who pass on or are terminally ill are intensely present as well as the dying. I know when I am around someone who is dying (my brother, my aunt, my dad), I keep watching, waiting, hoping for something profound from them, too. What pressure if they knew that, huh? I think they are on a path that I can't go right now and I wonder what they see and I am hoping that they have a glimpse of something I don't see. Something wonderful of course.
Very thought provoking blog, Victoria.

Peggy said...

I so enjoyed catching up with your world on your blog, Victoria after being away from my computer all week and then being crazy busy today with church and then Steve's family today. But sounds like you have been busy too. I hope you have a wonderful birthday and Hannukah/Christmas as well. I really enjoy reading your blog!

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