If you lose your partner, the common wisdom is you don’t make any other major changes for three years. Not unless you want to go way off the stress test charts, and maybe expire yourself. No, don’t worry, I have not lost my beloved husband Trond, who is alive and well and splitting firewood or something of the sort outdoors even on this winter day. And thank God for him!
Trond and I are alive all right, but there is a pall hanging over us, which you too must be feeling. It is exactly as if there has been an unexpected death, or two, in the family—one in the world family of which we are all a part, the other in the micro family here on our precious farm.
The first death of which I speak is, of course, the destruction of nearly every value and ideal I—and I dare say we, as a people—hold dear. For once, I am almost speechless, finding only paltry words to describe the unspeakable horror unfolding before us just two hours south of my house.
One hideous, destructive misstep and outrageous appointment follows another, and lie after lashing lie, the President projecting his deceit onto the media and anyone but his Pinocchio self. Day by day, the very ground on which we thought we stood, is being yanked brutally out from under us. A shocking percentage of us gleefully, and I dare say ignorantly, cheer him on.
Worse, those who, if the tables were turned, would be making a terrible uproar, are unwilling—almost to a man (and, sadly, woman as well)—to utter a bleeping peep. All the while, the emperor struts his forlorn, naked self about the land, pillaging and pillorying as he goes.
“The emperor has no clothes!” Would somebody please shout it out!
In this new kingdom, which we must not let become the new normal, fear reigns. And wherever there is abundant fear, love and its sister, compassion, must be invoked like never before. It’s the one and only antidote. We who refuse to close our eyes and shut up in the face of massive injustice and unkindness must be all in for love. And our campaign to bring love to the fore needs to begin, as all love must, with a self love so powerful we’ll have to break our hearts open and bathe in it, before we can shower it on others. Not an easy assignment in these disruptive and distracting times. (One way we can perhaps do that is a topic I explored in my last blog post.)
The need for extreme self love brings me, however indirectly, to the second death I alluded to. It’s the one happening right here on our Lewisberry farm, as Trond and I move into the late stage of life. That is the death of 45 years of our two lives—and a way of life—we took for granted, until we began to dismantle it fiercely two weeks ago. Let me explain.
In January, we returned from a sojourn to the West Coast, where we’d gone on a mission to hang out with family and find a new home. As some of you know, our two kids and four grandchildren are all now settled in California. Since we couldn’t quite imagine moving through our seventies while being 3000 miles away from the people we hold most dear, we planned to put the farm on the market this spring and head west. It seemed the smart, self-loving thing to do!
Someone asked me yesterday, “But what if you resettle out there to be with them and they move?” “That would be a miracle akin to the Virgin birth,” I replied. It ain’t gonna happen. Both kids and their spouses adore the Bay Area where they live, and which also happens to be where Trond started—and loved—his life in the U.S. almost 60 years ago. Here’s the rub.
To move to the West Coast, we have to sell our farm, the sanctuary we have called home for almost a half century. On these hallowed 55 acres, with its 205 year old stone house, barn and five outbuildings, we have lived and loved, birthed and raised our babies—and a herd of black angus cattle. We have chased those darned cows through blizzards, and watched hungry sheep make short work of the flower beds. We planted 500 saplings and saw them grow to 30 feet tall.
We tended a vast organic veggie garden and reveled in generations of blue bird and cardinal fledglings. We cherished and buried countless horses, dogs and cats (yes, Trond dug graves for the horses). We have welcomed family and friends to the guest quarters Trond and Teg built in a classic barn raising, a sacred space where I write and which housed a woman’s meditation circle.
Two weeks ago, our wonderful children dropped everything and came to help us clear it all out, all but the furniture, art work and books, which stay till the house sells. Trond said it felt like a funeral. For him it was about sorting through decades of recollections invoked by sheds full of equipment, tools, lumber, nails, screws, and detritus large and small. Not to mention all the stuff in the attic that he had shipped back from Norway after his mother died but never opened. Phew!
Nearly everything he touched evoked early memories or represented a project completed, half-finished or imagined but unlikely to get done now that we’re moving on. The kids have gone back to their busy lives. But we are still filling a second dumpster, after we throw whatever burns onto a great bonfire. Yesterday it was the contents of the basement that went up in smoke.
The attic was where I lost it. Weeding through box upon box of files became a heart-rending life review. One afternoon while the others worked outside, I sat alone on a broken chair by an open attic window, chilled but fascinated by what was left of me there amid the dust, debris and sun rays. For hours I devoured my creations, from D.C. Mayflower Hotel ads in my copywriter days, to elaborate proposals— for a Master’s thesis and syndication of my Philadelphia Inquirer column. There were dozens of articles and a proposal for a book approved by a top publisher which I chose not to write. There was a play, and many unrealized pitches to share my work.
I turned up numerous thick issues of a newsletter I apparently edited for the Philadelphia Board of Education, a publication that garnered awards and congratulatory letters galore, all of which I seem to have kept. I unearthed my letters to the editor, published in faded Time and Newsweek magazines. But I spent the most time pouring over dozens of files documenting my 20 intense, transformative years as a Kripalu devotee, yoga teacher and Network regional leader. I found fine writing about yoga that I had done for the guru’s never published book, years of detailed student lesson plans, and outlines for the support group leader workshops I was terrified to lead.
Most compelling were the warm, supportive letters written to me by long deceased family members, sometimes forgotten friends, bosses, colleagues, even Superintendents of Schools—Philadelphia (where I worked) and Oakland (where my grandkids recently went, of all things). I am pretty sure I didn’t take in all the kudos way back then, when I needed it most. But I found all those kind words deeply moving the other day. Most poignant of all, though, were the dozens of handwritten epistles from two men. Both loved me so much it nearly broke my heart to read their words all these 50 years later, not least because I probably broke their hearts all those years ago.
By the end of my attic afternoon, I felt as if I had been watching a monumental movie about someone else’s life and, okay, a little like I’d been attending my own funeral. I was astonished and cheered by the richness of the life I had lived. Did I really do all that? But I was at least as sobered—and saddened—by how utterly over those many life chapters are. Putting them to rest had the finality of death. Where did that life go? Who has it helped me become?
So here we are now, Trond and I, down to the bare bones, in pretty much every sense of that phrase. Things have been cleared out and stripped away, and it should be time for us to go—if not yet to the grave, to California to start a new life. But we are not sure we can do it.
Having relegated the stuff of our lives to the funeral pyre, and that against the backdrop of our country’s terrifying democratic demise, may have been enough upheaval for now. Tearing ourselves from this solid, familiar ground we call home for an uncertain future far away could well send us off those stress charts—and sooner to the grave than need be.
Moving to California right now might just be one death in the family too many. We’ll see.
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