Francis, a beautiful, creative woman and long time Island resident, came to my work place the other day. “I’ve been reading your articles on aging and dying in Orcas Issues, and you know,” she said with a wee bit of disdain in her voice, “aging isn’t all fun and light – sometimes there’s anger and hate. I’ve been dealing with hearing loss for a long time. My memory is deteriorating and I’m afraid that I’m losing my mind. I’m living with a lot of pain. I’m alone more often than not, and I’m angry about all of this. Sometimes I hate being alive. I just wanted you to know that!“
About 8 years ago, some friends of mine, Harvey and Kate, while sitting at a stoplight in their cute little sports car, having a beautiful peaceful day off Island, were struck from behind by a big truck. It crushed the easy-going brilliant life that they knew was theirs. Physical injury and trauma to the brain completely changed their orientation to life. The degree to which they have recovered allows a great deal of mobility and possibilities, however, everyday they live with the consequences of their life choices: They live with chronic pain and an inability to rely on their mental capabilities; they live with their choice to buy a little sports car, drive off Island that fateful day, and choose within every moment of life how they will face the unknown that arises every day.
For decades, my friend Marvin worked for the airlines until he retired. Every day, as he loaded and unloaded baggage from airplanes, he was exposed to the sound of those jet engines that can blind a person with sound. Marvin suffers with major hearing loss because of his choice of jobs. He too, like Francis, Harvey and Kate, at times, questions the choices he made and the consequence of those choices.
Personally, I’ve yet to be affected by the 3 D’s of aging – Decline, Depletion and Deterioration – like Frances, nor have I been affected by other life circumstance such as Marvin, Harvey and Kate, that could not be anything other than annihilating to one’s frame of reference. I also have all my faculties: the ones that we all rely on to navigate reality and which we believe allow us relationship with the world & communities within which we exist: sight, hearing, mobility, & mental faculties.
I didn’t go to war, where one loses limbs, friends, and too often peace of mind. I did however choose marriage, parenthood, divorce and separation from my children. To choose this and not something else required me to deal with the ravages of the death of innocence, and the loss of hope that love will prevail.
Life’s battles, regardless of how mundane they appear to be, require each of us to accept what is, which can be as horrendous and traumatic as anything imaginable.
I don’t know of a single person who has lived a life free of some form of trauma due to choices they have made, or that were made by others. Each of us are left to our own devices to be with the consequences of those unforeseen, undesired events. Essentially, we either choose to frame our reality in the perspective of victimhood, or we choose to see the bigger picture – one that lies beyond powerlessness, hopelessness and helplessness.
Truly, no one likes this particular conversation I’m having with you through this writing, even though it circles around in our mental conversations continuously. We experience the hardships of our circumstances, while at the same time we courageously muster the strength to live within the consequences of life’s undoing. It seems impossible and unrealistic to even attempt to shift our frame of reference from seeing ourselves as victims of decline, deterioration and depletion of life force, to a perspective which provides opportunities to experience who we are as our essential selves, within these difficult and undesired experience.
I now know who I am
It is because of those unanticipated, unwanted, despicable life circumstance that I’ve come to experience who I am in the truest sense. If I hadn’t been forced into certain circumstances that stretched my capacity to question reality, question faith, question truth, I wouldn’t have grown my ability to even experience serenity. I couldn’t have experienced first hand how grace works in such profound ways. I wouldn’t have developed the tools to empower others to find their ways to serenity through grace.
Truth is, most of us live with our circumstances, frustrated, disappointed, angry and sometimes hateful. We don’t have a way of seeing it any other way. So we avoid and distract ourselves from our agony and our fears, hoping that someday there will be ease, grace and serenity.
I believe that whatever circumstance we currently sit in, regardless of age, race, religion, gender, sexual preference, or political orientation, we each reach a moment where we examine who we are within our life choices, our life circumstance. We rail and flail against forces that have brought us to this moment. We resist grieving the loss of the world we once knew, experienced, and hoped would always be.
We hate those who ignore our plight, those who won’t even try to accept us as we are now, with all of our failings and faults. We feel marginalized, isolated, cast out, useless, without purpose, and most importantly, without a true knowing of Self that guides and companions each of us through life’s unfolding.
At some point, each individual comes to a choice point, where they can choose to surrender all of that – all the suffering created by using the compass of discontent. It is an opportunity to admit we are powerless, perhaps even helpless, and our situation is hopeless. None of us truly look forward to this moment of choice. Few of us actually choose a path of acceptance, and fully allow the joy that is accessible through acceptance.
This isn’t heartbreaking news, because everyone of us has the ability to choose the life worth living. Except for a very few, everyone of us has the ability to let go of what no longer serves a life of serenity. I smile as I write this, because I know that the possibility for each of us to create that joy is so very near.
If you’d like to join Dr. Rosie in the AGING – Who Me in-person discussions at the Orcas Island Senior Center, they are meeting this coming Tuesday – July 25th, from 10 – 11:30 a.m.