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.”