Looking Straight at the Ending of my Life

My friend Elizabeth sent me a link to a talk by Stephen Jenkinson.  It didn’t do much for me, so I didn’t follow it up.  More recently she sent me a link to a short film about Nights of Grief and Mystery, a performance Jenkinson is doing with a singer named Gregory Hoskins.  It’s called Lost Nation Road.  “It’s the limit that gives you the opportunity to practice being human.”

After I watched the video, I had such a sense of validation of my feeling of walking into the desert when I hear the Magpie song about the Wolf:  “follow you into the North…”  I saw that my wish to do as much as I can with what I have left is what he’s talking about.  The exact phrase is a quote from Yitzhak Perlman: “‘You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.’”  I am not afraid of dying.  For a lot of my life I was often suicidal, and even now death looks like a relief.  I can lay down the job.

After I watched the video, I signed up for a ticket to the performance of Night of Grief and Mystery in Portland Maine.

Still trying to verbalize what this means to me, but maybe it’s not important or necessary.  Maybe songs and images are better.  I think of the grief rituals and death rituals of traditional cultures.  Singing and dancing are more appropriate.

3rd cup.  I want to write about Stephen Jenkinson and my feeling of validation for my wish to understand what it is that I am supposed to do? by whom? — I want to do?  I’m not sure it’s a question of wanting —— Oh, it’s a question of being called — what am I called to do with the time and energy I have left.  Stephen — he really should have a different name, a shamanic name — says it’s only when you accept that your life will end that you get to be human.  I think that has something to do with living in the present, and with living humbly.  Maybe I want too much to have meaning, joy, beauty in each moment.  But what I feel now is an ache in my heart for all the diversity, beauty, and health that’s been lost.  That’s being truly present too.  I know that it’s possible, when everything around you is awful — I remember Rose Marie playing with a dog while we waited for something official having to do with Michael’s body — to still find something to enjoy, but I am not able [typo: about] to do it and I have no idea why.  Possibly the wanting to have it be different is what I have to let go of.  Do I want to be happy or true?  Do I want to be happy or whole?  If that’s the choice, I choose to be true and whole.  I suppose that trying to find my way through these conflicts and desires may be what this last chapter of my life is about.  “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

The typo — I wrote “I am not able to…” but I typed  “I am not about to.. still find something to enjoy when things are really bad.” making it a choice I’m making.  I don’t know if that’s true.

The quote is from the Talmud.

I have been able to experience warmth and satisfaction while doing ordinary daily tasks: watering plants, hanging up clothes, washing dishes, etc.  If I could live like that all the time, I would take it.  But mostly it feels like a chore.

I remember a time I was terrified — it was the summer from Hell — and I was watering plants.  I remember watching how the water spiraled as it came out of the spout of the watering can, I held onto it for dear life, but I can’t say it was beautiful.

I think about my idea/feeling that the gift of life came to me smashed, and my anger and resentment.  What if it was smashed so I could put it back together creatively?  What if my experience of trauma was intended to be an initiation, and its purpose was to keep me searching for truth and meaning, to keep me from settling for a conventional life?  There certainly have been times when I have felt that PTSD was a gift.  In fact I’ve been letting go of the resentment, and accepting that it’s a task that I’ve chosen to take on.

Stephen Jenkinson is described in a post from Daily Good:

“With a master’s degree in theology from Harvard University and a master’s in social work from the University of Toronto, Stephen Jenkinson was the director of counselling services in the palliative care department at a major Canadian hospital  in  Toronto for several years, where he encountered the deep ‘death phobia’ and ‘grief illiteracy’ that most of his patients and their loved ones brought to their deathbeds. This work motivated Jenkinson to encourage people to prepare for their death well before its arrival so that they might be free to ‘participate emotionally in their deaths as they participate in other major life events.’

“In 2010, Jenkinson founded the Orphan Wisdom School, at his farm in the Ottawa Valley in Ontario, Canada. The school provides experiential learning in the skills of ‘deep living and making human culture.’ Jenkinson believes that what modern people ‘suffer from most is culture failure: amnesia of ancestry and deep family story, phantom or sham rites of passage, no instruction on how to live with each other or with the world around us, or with our dead, or with our history.’

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