Truth-telling. Not enough of that in this present political age. Since I’m not in control of our society’s unleashed lying habits, I’m proposing to start here:
Be honest with myself.
Hmmm. As in, a long, hard look in the mirror? What I see there these days is my mortality.
You too can stare death in the face with a read of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and OtherLessons From the Crematory, by Caitlin Doughty. It is not for the squeamish or faint-of-heart, but I found it to be bracing and yes, refreshing. Death is acknowledged. No lies. No subterfuge.
My Alexander Technique teaching studio has two skeletons in daily use, along with multiple anatomy tomes. Some students are uncomfortable with considering the bones beneath their flesh, and a bit of light-hearted cajoling is required for a engaged lesson of curiosity about the body and its structure.
Facing the truth of death and decay is to embrace living. In a death-denying and truth-negating culture, this can be a radical practice. Let’s begin with some courageous honesty all around, and who knows, we could be contributing to a new cultural norm; telling the truth!
May 26, 2017. At the kitchen sink, washing up the breakfast dishes, I realize there is an orchid inches from my face. It bloomed! It’s been ready to pop for weeks, and today was the day. Morgan! Thank you. Hello.
I see her in all things small and delicate.
She was born May 26, 1984 and had 9 months and 3 weeks to be here. 33 years later, Mike and I are sitting on the cabin porch, remembering the Saturday she arrived in our Oakland Avenue upstairs bedroom. Mike recalls when the midwives told us Morgan had physical markers for Down Syndrome, I was so captivated to have her next to me, it didn’t seem to matter what they were saying.
We look out over the fields, study the clouds, sip our beers. Then he tells me a story I had not heard before. The first Father’s Day after Morgan’s death, he was walking the farm. Along the north fence row a deer snorted and stamped, attempting to distract Mike, and sure enough, there in the grasses was a new fawn.
In 1988, my father died suddenly of a heart attack, and having lost my mother 10 years earlier, I was officially orphaned. Often I found myself in a one-sided conversation with my parents, and once in a while, imagined hearing back from them.
One of those times a ditty began to sing itself in my mind’s ear, and although the melody has been lost, I do remember the lyric: Make a little beauty each day….It’s all that’s asked, all that’s required, just make a little beauty each day.
Yes. Making beauty. A roast chicken, a song, an Alexander Technique lesson, a pleasing arrangement of pottery and pictures on the mantle, a linen napkin under the sterling silver at dinner. A kind word, a lavish party. A photograph. A friendship. A marriage. A life you can love. It’s enough.
In this spring season, when the natural world is wild with making, may you be inspired to make a little beauty too. It’s all that’s required——
One month ago, I stood in the kitchen raising a glass to a man whose lively engagement with life ensured us a long evening of laughs and great stories. Of four 1971 Ohio State University freshmen assigned to the same dorm floor, one is now deceased.
Kerry Egan,hospice chaplainand author of the just published, On Living, wrote this about those who know they are near to death:
‘…..it isn’t just healththat they wish they had appreciated. It is embodiment itself. It’s the very experience of being in a body, something you might take for granted until faced with the reality that you won’t have a body soon….so they talk about their favorite memories of their bodies…And dancing. So many stories about dancing.’
And Ted did dance. One of the apocryphal Ted stories is titled, ‘the Russian Vodka Party.’ A raucous house party burst through its doors, where Ted and I and others danced our way down the porch steps and into the grass.
Another dancing-with-Ted memory. My daughter, Morgan, was born with Down Syndrome, and died at nine months of age from pneumonia due to a heart defect. Mike and I grieved and struggled for a very long time. Ted gave us a much needed reprieve when he dragged us out of our sad house and into a bar where we ended up dancing out into the street once again. Did I ever tell him what a gift that was? I can’t remember that I did. It’s one of those regrets that those of us still living cannot escape when we lose someone we love.
Tia Sillers and Mark Sanders wrote “I Hope You Dance” in 2000, a big cross-over country pop hit sung by Lee Ann Womack. One phrase repeats throughout, and it is my wish for you this day:
‘And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance…..I hope you dance.’