There is a terrifying beauty to my life these days. I say terrifying because there is a specter that arrives at the door as you greet each thing of beauty into your life, the specter of its loss.
The love relationship at the center of my life right now runs very deep, into the crevices and shadows of the places I know I still need to grow. Being this deeply loved and cherished by turns inspires and horrifies me. It raises questions of my own worth and also of my ability to continue to grow, to create, to be as volatile and vital as I was when this man I love first loved me. There is an intrinsic fear that if I change too much, this love will fall away; or if I do not change enough, this love will fall away; a deep and shadowy fear that it is all a wonderful mistake and I will wake one day to find I am no longer loved.
Then, too, loving this deeply gives a hostage to fate. The hard rains that came last week slicked the road and sent the man I am going to marry into a hydroplane, skidding in a full circle across the highway. I nearly lost him. Life is so tenuous. How do we live with this constant specter of loss?
One glimmer of an answer is given to me by my original hostages to fate, the boys who daily lose some of their baby softness and are sharpening into young men, men whose lives are slowly detaching at the roots and widening away from me. I have learned, day by day, slowly and sometimes against great resistance, to love them with flexible curiosity. I have learned to love them in anticipation of change, rather than in expectation that we will be the same parent and child we were yesterday. I have learned, with wrenching pain, that life will hurt them and I will be powerless to stop it. I have learned that I have very little power in their lives, except to give them a homing place between their explorations. I have learned that my life is mine and their lives are theirs, that we find meaning in wildly different places, that they are not necessarily going to enjoy my (freaking amazing, wildly inventive, dammit!) cooking.
There is another shadow to beauty of this kind, and that is guilt. Who am I to have so beautiful, so privileged a life when there is so much pain around me? Every day between the gray walls of my office cubicle I am vouchsafed new stories, stories of loss and pain and such heartrending unfairness that I sometimes howl into a pillow when I get home. Stories of poverty and oppression that is punished with more poverty and oppression, deep pain that is punished with more pain. All I can do in the face of this monstrous unfairness is look it in the eye and challenge it with the conviction that life can turn around. All I can do is hear the humanness in these beautiful people, people who have been treated all of their lives as less than human, people that never had–and may never have–the chances that I was lucky enough to have been given. I can’t give them the privileges attendant upon the color of my skin. I can’t give them my loving parents, or the blind luck of my genes or educational background.
There is an impulse that arises to deny it all, to numb away from it. In the evenings there is a compulsion to climb into bed and read escapist fiction, to shut myself away with a glass of wine and deaden myself to what I have seen and heard. Sometimes I succumb to that impulse, and sometimes it helps. But it does not honor this life I have been given. As Wayne Dyer writes, you can never be sad enough to lift another’s depression, or poor enough to make someone else rich.
So. I wake and stretch and try to spend the day reaching toward the light instead of tucking myself away from fear of loss. I am training myself to live in appreciation of this beauty that has been granted me, to explore its furthest reaches with curiosity and tenderness. The most respectful thing I can do is live it, and appreciate it, utterly. Then I can turn back to my friends and clients in the wilderness and say, try this way. It’s less thorny up ahead, you can do it.
My friend Maeve and I are presenting a series of workshops starting next wednesday that explore the connections between permaculture and psychological resilience. As I prepare the curriculum for these workshops, I am reminded again of the incredible elegance of ecology. I am reminded that the problem is the solution, that everything gardens, that in my guild of neighbors I may find nutrients that I cannot synthesize for myself. I can use my privileges to synthesize nutrients for my neighbors by taking actions they cannot take. I can learn how to do this most effectively through observation and awareness, for forces that move through my landscape will invisibly alter me if I do not pay attention and act to change them. I am reminded of natural succession, of how our very growth changes us and prepares the ground for the next cycle.
And I am reminded that the heartrending beauty at the center of any garden, of any ecosystem, is change. Dandelions and chicory give way to passionflower and muscadine, which pave the way for locust and tulip poplar, then oak and beech, which shade out the dandelion and grape and locust—but then fall, leaving sunlit gaps, and there are the dandelions again. Our task, then, is to gather the dandelions and then the grapes, fill our arms with locust blossoms, climb up into the beech and soothe ourselves in the shade. My task is to honor what has been given, for as long as it lasts, and prepare the ground so that all of my neighbors can thrive. Diversity is resilience: in gardens, in the psyche, in the neighborhood.
I am resilient in my change. I do not need to fear the change. I need to actively participate in it.