It was an absolutely delicious day on Monday. As I began to write, the bell chime was about to fly off the porch. It’s been serenading the neighborhood for a week and now it has hit crescendo. Just as wonderful for me are the smudges of blue, gray and white in the sky. If you look close you can imagine pastels and chalky fingers, smudges all over this sky-canvas. I love days like this.
I’ve been reading a book called The Art of Dying Well. It could just as easily be called The Art of Living Well. So much to consider and plan for. In my world, I have leaned heavily on the idea that our marriage will replace the need for planning, but that is not the case. There is so much more than what the laws of community property afford us.
Of course, this gets me to thinking about my own longevity; how I understand it and how I ultimately feel about it. People think I’m being pessimistic, or worse, fatalistic when I talk about what a good death looks like to me. They are equally uncomfortable hearing that my focus will always be on quality and not quantity of life. For such an inevitable thing for all of us, we really should talk about it a lot more than we do.
Even if medication continues to keep my RA symptoms arrested, it almost certainly will cause damage to the other systems supporting me. There is a likelihood that this disease will take years off of my projected life span (and that is without this new risk of Covid), so that is how I’m planning. I like to see that as realistic and not the contrary. In fact, I think it’s irresponsible not to acknowledge well documented facts.
I’ve witnessed a lot of dying in the past five years and I’m beginning to see planning in a whole new light. In this book are suggestions for each phase we find ourselves in and what steps we can take to keep the quality of our lives high as we age: 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. We can choose to do it wisely and gracefully, or not. It comes down to paying attention and recognizing where you are on your own arc. Maybe it’s an arc of health and maybe it’s an arc of illness, but either way it makes sense to sketch it out and tell the truth about it.
Considering my own arc, I would do well to start actually getting rid of things that no longer serve a meaningful purpose. I can give some away, I can throw some away, I can recycle some, repurpose some and maybe even sell some. The important thing is to actually begin. I wrote a post months ago about “Dostadning” or Swedish death cleaning. It isn’t as morbid as it sounds. It’s actually an act of love. Stuff equals stress, and who needs it?
Beyond these very practical suggestions are the nagging feelings I have about life and death. There have been so many unexplained and unpredictable losses in these last five years that I’m left reeling. Those who left too early had dreams too. Probably many of them had set aside money and resources for “someday” or for:
●When I retire.
●When I finish the book/painting/project
●When I feel stronger.
●When the weather improves.
●When the pandemic is over …
As I begin the process of letting things go, I am preparing a mental list of things I want to remember. I’ve seen what a poor death looks like up close. I’ve seen what happens when you fail to plan. I’ve lived the words (often attributed to Buddha) that say “The trouble is, you think you have time …”
We have today. Just that. Today.
My lists aren’t so much plans as they are reminders of what memory has jogged. Reminders about where to set the GPS and where to aim the sails. Reminders of the different stages of twilight and phases of the moon. Reminders to wake up and inhale. The rest takes care of itself.
I won’t pretend to be good at this stuff. I dig through a box and conjure the exact feeling I had when I stuffed things in there in there in the first place. I am developing a stronger practice of letting go. It’s like snipping the string holding the kite and … away it flies. (And yes, I actually have a pretty neat kite if anyone would like to have it).
Yesterday I jumped back in and tried to make sense of what I seem determined to keep in those boxes. So much of it I’ve had for 40 years or more. Magazines, newspapers, artwork and papers from school. I have one big plastic bin full of nothing but small boxes that I keep just because they are good boxes.
I have a large shadow box that I can use to hold trinkets of the past, small treasures. Most of it is just “stuff” though. I am holding on for all the wrong reasons. I have a pretty full recycle bin this morning. And several tubs ready for the thrift store. As I round the corner toward 60, planning now will mean less stress in the decades ahead.
I’m off this morning to enjoy sunrise at Mount St Helens. It feels like ages since I’ve been out and I’ve been saving my 100th WTA trip report for something special. I am hopeful today is that day.
In early June I saw my first horned lark foraging just off the Truman Trail. I’m not sure who might be lingering at the mountain this time of year but I’m excited to find out. The road is still open to Johnston Ridge (I think) and I should probably expect snow on my travels. I’ll be safe. And attentive. The two things that come as close to guarantees that I have in my life.
Happy Hump Day.
I can’t wait to share what I see !