If you've been out there in cyberspace calling my name over the past 10 days, I'm finally raising my hand and saying "Present!" At least partly.
If you've been reading this space very often this winter, you know I've been struggling a bit. Part of me feels guilty for sharing that struggle here in the open, but then this is my place to talk about life in general and my own in particular. Lately, I'm working to find the meaning in either one.
Last night I attended a dinner concert and was seated at the table with a couple whose children were members of the high school choir I accompanied years ago. The mother, a woman in her mid to late 40's, was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer about three years ago. She's been fighting valiantly to save her own life - she's a hospice nurse, of all the ironies, and has no misconceptions about her chances of longevity. However, she still has a 13 year old daughter at home, and is doing her best to give that girl a mother for as long as possible.
She speaks frankly and comfortably about death. "If I'm still here next year" she commented matter of factly, referring to her younger daughter's entrance into high school. I overheard her talking about writing cards and letters to all her children, to be opened at specific times of their lives - weddings, graduations, childbirth. "At those times when they would need to have their mother around," she says.
Looking at her - and she looks perfectly healthy and well, by the way - I was struck dumb by her courage. I wanted to feel inspired by it, but all I could feel was demoralized. Because in her place, I felt as if I'd never have that gumption or determination to live. I just don't think I want it bad enough to fight that hard.
Probably I'm wrong - probably if the doctor told me tomorrow that I'd be dead within the year, I'd start Googling medical trials all over the world, sign up for the most intensive course of therapy offered, barter my soul for the privilege of staying alive just one more day. God knows, I have at least half a dozen friends and acquaintances doing that very thing as we speak.
But there's something about my life in particular these days that doesn't seem worth the effort. In the great roll call of life, I may be accounted for, but I don't feel as if I'm present.
Where am I, then?
Living in a small cottage somewhere on the Atlantic coast, walking the beach every day with my dogs, eating fresh clams for dinner, spending my days writing, reading, listening to the waves lap against the shore.
Driving a convertible down the Pacific Coast Highway, meeting friends for coffee by the bay, playing music, having drinks on the terrace as the sun sets.
Sitting on the front porch of my house in Small Town, USA, drinking iced tea, talking to friends and neighbors as they meander past on their way to the market.
But I'm so far from any of these places, from any of the dreams I once had for my life, that it actually hurts sometimes to be present in this one.
I opened a new book earlier today, and the frontispiece had this line from a Mary Oliver poem as an epigraph~
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
How do I go forward into the next phase of life, the one I'm so very fortunate to have an opportunity to plan? This time it has to be what I need - not because someone expects it of me, someone needs me, someone wants me to do it. I have never in my life made a choice that wasn't largely based on the needs or expectations of someone else. Perhaps that's why I'm not present in my own life - because it isn't mine. It's my parents, my husbands, my sons - even my friends and my boss'.
It's not mine.
At some point in my wild and precious future, when my name is called I want to jump out of my seat and shout "Here!"
I don't know how to make that happen. But I hope I don't have to die trying.