Every January I pull together a budget based on the previous year’s earnings and expenses as well as projected changes in earnings and expenses for the current year. I hate it. Even though I’ve made it as simple as possible, I do not like writing the budget. Numbers make me nervous – always have since grade school where they were my weakest subject and would remain so through high school. (One of the many reasons I loved my college was because, back then, students chose between a language and math. We didn’t have to take both. Call me crazy but I signed up for Greek and said “bye-bye” to numbers in school!) Since I do the budget because it’s necessary, first of all I avoid it by practicing the art of procrastination with creative and productive projects that keep me out of my study. Then when I commit to it, I spend the time at my desk bubbling inside with impatience and insecurity while wanting to be somewhere else, doing something else. Going to the movies is never as enticing as it is while I sit here and get the work done. In fact, I have interrupted the task of writing up the 2017 budget with this very reflection. Several minutes ago I interrupted the task by buying an MP3 album at Amazon, which now keeps me company while I do the budget. Actually, the music is keeping me company in this very moment as I write this.
Why did I start writing this? Because it occurred to me that numbers can tell tales – stories – memoir, if you will, about how the previous year was spent as well as the hopes and expectations for the New Year. I thought if I looked at it this way, it would help. I actually feel a slight sense of relaxation around the budget. I’m going back to it. I’ll be back in a bit.
It helped! Going back to the budget I felt calm and relaxed. As a writer I was surprised by my impulse to look at the numbers as story and memoir because I knew I did not want to take the time to sort of tell the tale about each number in the budget. That wasn’t what I was going for at all. It was a clean cut idea that the numbers would speak for themselves. Together on the page of the budget, in relationship to one another, and in relationship to me they are a memoir of last year and a story about this year. And my mind relaxed around the task.
Within the context of looking at the numbers as story or memoir, they tell a boldly honest tale. Something memoirists talk about is that in memoir the writer practices selective memory. In writing memoir, selective memory isn’t less than the truth. Sometimes it points to bigger truths. It isn’t biography nor is it fiction. Mostly, selective memory means the writer shares what she needs to share and not everything needs to be shared. Dani Shapiro asks this about memoir, “What is the job of the memoirist? Is it to tell all? Or is it to carve a story out of memory?”
But a budget as memoir – the numbers are there representing exactly what was, anticipating what will likely be. It’s a bold truth indeed. And, for me, it is now complete. Rather than running away from the completed task or shaking it off, I’m basking in the glow of a tale well told. Till next year!
(For the sake of this reflection, I added photographs of bells because they can be counted.) 🙂
I’ve reached that time in life, the middle point, when some of my beloveds have begun leaving this earth. On the basis of age alone, this will continue to happen until I one day join them. When I say “beloveds” I am referring to the people who made and make me feel loved and, who I hope, allowed me (and allow me) to make them feel loved as well. In the last three years I’ve lost three such people from my life here on earth.
Though grief has always been a companion of mine, these days she takes up more space. I bump into her more often, as if hers or my (or our) hips have gotten larger and we’re not used to taking up more space – so we jostle for it. This bumping into grief might occur from an obvious thing like a song on the radio, a scent in the air, a joke one of my beloveds and I would have shared, an opinion I’d like to have elicited. Or it can occur for no reason at all like the night recently when I finished cleaning the kitchen and, as I walked down the short hallway to the front room, I felt a need arise inside. I instinctively turned back to the kitchen to see if I could figure out what it was I needed. Had I left something unfinished? Was I hungry? Did I want food or drink just for the pleasure of it? What was needed? And then I got it. There it was – grief. I had no needs to fill, the ache inside was just grief showing up for no reason except a basic longing to be able to physically, mentally, and emotionally connect with my beloveds.
As a result of grief bumping hips with me, jostling for space, I notice I’ve been walking around feeling less loved. Preoccupied with death and dying. I think about it in the morning when I get up and at night when I get ready for bed. I think a lot about how I’m slowly losing the people who have loved me the most and that one day it could be true that no one will be left who truly, deeply loves me. It might unfold that no one will be left for whom my happiness really matters to them. I could wind up completely and utterly alone. As such I seem to have a yard stick in hand with which to measure how much love is now gone from my life.
But then I self-correct and get busy thinking better thoughts, you know, like how lucky I was to have had these recently departed beloveds in my life. Like truly, outrageously fortunate. And how truly, outrageously fortunate to still have a number of beloveds alive and in my life and us loving each other! I mean – it’s awesome how many people there are to love and be loved by!
This back and forth thinking about death and emptiness then life and fullness is like jumping back and forth between two parallel tightropes. But the life and fullness tightrope is tied between two trees, whereas the death and emptiness tightrope is attached on both ends to something covered in mist and clouds. Naturally, the mystery of where the death and emptiness tightrope leads makes it the more appealing one to travel.
Today, though, I thunk a different thought. I did so because I ran across something Byron Katie said in her book, I Need Your Love – is That True? She writes, “Most people believe that love and need are synonymous. ‘I love you, I need you’ is the hook of a thousand love songs.” The title of the book plus those two sentences made me realize that I have been walking around as if I can’t comfortably exist if those who are among the few who love me most are no longer around to fulfill my need to be loved.
So I took that idea and held it close: I can’t comfortably exist if these three who are among those who love me most are not around to fulfill my need to be loved. As I did so, I could feel that this idea was greeted by all the love inside me. The love that exists inside me all the time stirred and greeted this thought that I am less loved because three of my beloveds are gone, along with the discomfort that thought creates.
I decided to greet the Love that stirred inside and realized it consists of the love of God, the love of my husband, the love of these three beloveds who left this earth during the past three years, the love of everyone still physically in my life who love me, all the love I’ve ever been given, and all the love I’ve ever expressed and given away – all that love met this idea that something was missing because three of my beloveds died. And you know what the idea did? It laughed! It laughed a great big belly laugh, before dissolving into all that LOVE.
I thought the love others gave me was something only they could give. Which meant death could take it away. Believing that thought means I am not in touch with the love that already resides within me. This is deeper than self-love. This is about being Love. This is about God’s love in an “inter-being,” tangible way. I’ve picked up this term “inter-being” from Richard Rohr and his new book, The Divine Dance. I think inter-being as Richard uses it means I am in God and God is in me, always, and so Love is always present. Love is always available. Love is always here – right here, inside me – inside, within, around, alongside all of life!
This doesn’t magically take away grief. What it does do is it makes life, my life, bigger than the grief I’m experiencing. I say above that I’m bumping into grief more these days. I feel sort of shoved out the way by her hips. But perhaps it’s a love tap. Maybe when I bump into her I can move closer, the way I would move closer to a friend with whom I bump hips while walking together. Perhaps I can abandon both those tight ropes I mentioned and, instead, walk alongside this friend I call Grief which, in fact, may be love personified. Relax into the total experience of it and let it expand my heart and feel the love more deeply.
Instead of, “I was loved. I lost those who loved me. Now I am bereft,” isn’t there a felt sense of I was loved – beautifully loved – and I still am loved? When I say ‘I still am loved’ I’m speaking about love given and received as well as the Presence of Love within me that is even or also me – the real me. The love that resides inside truly exists in me. It isn’t dependent on someone else giving it to me. And at the same time, all my beloveds’ love still resides in me in a full and tangible way.
I began writing this essay many days ago. I can say that I seem to have experienced genuine transformation around my companion whose hips like to brush up against mine, otherwise known as grief. I still can feel hurt, confusion, and longing in regard to my three beloveds who have left this earth. And those feelings still pop up in expected and unexpected places. But when I feel happiness, joy, delight, surprise, awe, contentment, curiosity, just any positive state, I now feel the presence of their love that still and ever will bless my life. I’d say I think of them even more often now, because there is no need to withhold or tamp down joy or laughter out of a sense of respect. Rather, they are still a part of life and living and sharing love.Even with grief as a companion, I now have a sense of wholeness back because I know that Love isn’t missing from my life. Love didn’t leave me. Love is right here inside me present to it all. When I show up and be present to Love, there is fullness, even a belly laugh that knits this mortal life together.And on the subject of mortality, I’ve been giving it less thought lately too.
Trusts that Life will support us in most everything we do.
I, on the other hand, keep waiting for Life to pull the rug out from under us
whereupon we’d fall flat on our fannies in the dirt road of humiliation and shame.
At which point I’d say “We should’ve tried harder to please Life,
to appease Life and not need to make amends,”
even as he’d lift me up, dust me off and say,
“Come on, girl, let’s go, there’s more Life to live.”
And I would stare at him in disbelief.
I must want to trust life too.
After 18 years of loving each other, I finally connected a pair of dots that makes sense of a lot – including a recurring tension between us. The man is the dreamer in this relationship and I…I am the pragmatist. How is it possible it took me so long to realize this and how is it possibly true? I’m the writer, for Pete’s sake. Doesn’t that necessarily make me the dreamer? Apparently not.
Since the beginning, there have been times when, to me, he felt like a man taking off in a hot air balloon with me losing my grip on the tether holding him to earth. He put forth so many ideas that pulled on me that may or may not ever come true, but spoken out loud threatened to undo my peace of mind. To him I must have felt like a brass weight (well, perhaps a weight made of gold), always putting attention on why this or that idea wasn’t practical, what the ramifications and consequences of following through with them would mean, and whether or not we could afford it. Whoosh! For 18 years it went right over my head that the #1 point of him initiating those conversations was to dream. Period. Kerplunk! For 18 years I didn’t understand the fact that what I wanted was to feel safe and protected. My pragmatism and rootedness helps keep me so. His hot air ballooning seemingly threatens to undo me.
That is until I figured out what’s going on here. He likes to dream and he likes to speak his dreams out loud. It doesn’t matter if we can’t afford it. That’s not the point. If we can’t afford it, we won’t get it, but why not dream it anyway? I keep my longings close to the bone so that if I can’t have them I won’t be disappointed or hurt. But, from experience and conversation, I finally understand this difference between us. I can let him dream and even sometimes chime in because I know he won’t choose a dream over my safety and security.
We’ve got a little bit of opposites attracting here, a little yin and yang, a little up and down, a little tension that can be used creatively instead of being the same old offense and argument over and over again.
Life gets better when we perceive personality differences as unique aspects of one another without taking them personally, like an affront. It isn’t an affront that I have hazel green eyes and his are blue. So there’s no affront that I’m a pragmatist and he’s a dreamer.
My whole life long I’ve only ever had the present moment. The future is not guaranteed, so at whatever age I’ve ever been, I only had the present moment in which to live and love. It turns out that when I was a child I did have a future that manifested itself one present moment at a time. But even from 7 to 17, with all my wistful desires for my life becoming more of what I wanted it to be and less what others demand it be; I was only ever alive in the present moment.
This thought rose to the surface on a drive with my dog, Daisy, today. It isn’t a spectacular thought. Many others have had it before me. I’ve read the same kind of thing many times. It’s something I know intellectually. But today it came to me and landed in that sweet spot where real knowledge and wisdom meet; which is probably the place it arose from as well.
To give it meaning and context, this “ah-ha” is important to me because of my recent preoccupation with the fear of death and dying. We moved six months ago. Do you know that moving is found on lists of events that contribute to the shortening of your life span? It’s true! About half the moves I’ve undertaken in my life have been beneficial, and that was true of this one. Nevertheless, moving is a beast because of the stress it imposes and the stress it unlocks. This move unlocked my own fears of death and dying. I remember some years ago blithely telling a friend, “Death doesn’t frighten me – only the variety of ways one can die.” I’m fairly confident that even with that statement I was resting secure in the idea I’d die asleep in my bed someday far, far away in the future. Well, I’ve been eating humble pie with that memory for a half a year or more.
This fear of death and dying, like a box wrapped up in the comics section of a newspaper and tied with string, got placed before me a couple of years ago. I don’t know why but our current move ripped the lid off that box. I go to bed fretting about how I’m aging, what’s going on with my body and mind, how much of it can I improve and if, how, and when it will all get worse. Amazingly, I fall asleep. Then somewhere near day break fear slaps me awake with dreams that don’t make sense but fill my gut with dread of my own demise.
While I imagine that if I took one of those quizzes that determine the “real” age you are, separate from your chronological age, it would say I’m older than my chronological age; nevertheless, I am only 55. Though the future is not guaranteed, I could have a lot of years left ahead of me. I do not want to spend them wrestling with the dread of death and dying – at all – and certainly not every night and morning.
And so the idea that I’ve only ever had the present moment, whether in my childhood, youth, adulthood, or middle years, landing in that sweet spot where real knowledge and wisdom meet, makes an impression. I believe that if I will attend to the present moment rather than fretting about the future, I can deal with how things are right now – what hurts, what works, what I need to be cautious about, what’s pleasurable, what causes concern and fear, what there is to be grateful for, etc. – and live, right here right now, with whatever limitations or improvements are present and available.
In my experience being present is a spiritual discipline. Just like in meditation where, with gentleness and no judgment, we come back to the mantra or the breath when our thoughts and attention wander, this is the way to return to the present moment – again and again.
If the fear of death and dying is a dragon toying with me, then continuing to return to the present moment may be the way to pull myself out of his talons, make direct eye contact, and soothe us both. Bring us both back to love and the only place where life and love happen – in the now. I can’t help but think of the famous Rainer Maria Rilke quote about fear and dragons:
How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.
So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloudshadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Actually, Rilke reminds me that this dread that wrestles me is a gift. I don’t have to feed it or sacrifice myself to it! But I can accept it as a gift and see what it has to teach me. That, too, best happens in the present moment with open palms rather than clinched fists and jaw.
There is such great good fortune in being able to pursue one’s highest aspiration. Mine has been for God and the spiritual side of life. For 49 of my 55 years it has been the most compelling aspect of my life.
Except for rare occasions, I’ve had a sense of God’s presence since I was 6-years old. This isn’t an uncommon phenomenon. Among people who make God, religion, and/or spirituality their life’s work, enough have written about their first mystical experience occurring at six or seven that I’ve decided there’s something in the maturation process of the human brain that makes this experience available then. As I came into my late teens, moving toward young adulthood, I assumed I needed to take this experience of the presence of God and my keen interest in spirituality and turn it into a career. That didn’t work out – not in my twenties when the desire felt like a calling and not in my forties when I revisited the notion.
Old enough to have fewer years ahead of me than I have behind me, I’ve wondered what it’s been about, this aspiration to love God with all my heart, soul, and mind – to have the luck and gift of that relationship. Wasn’t I meant to do something big and grand with it?!
Mulling it over once again, today I consider the possibility that one’s highest aspiration doesn’t have to be turned into a career. Instead, it can be what tucks you in at night, what casts your dreams, what greets you at the start of the day and carries you through each week.
It can play a part in making you a mensch – supporting you to be the kind of person who is available to help others in times of crisis or the smallest need.
A highest aspiration doesn’t have to be a self-defining thing. It doesn’t have to have goals or boundaries, expectations or agendas, a to-do list or a white board. Rather, it can be a place where essence is illuminated and where terms like success and failure are not a topic of thought or conversation. Instead of being turned into a measuring stick, it can be an expression of one’s essence, one’s heart, one’s being.
When I pull the “I should’ve done something grand with it” out of there and consider the words written above, it feels like a free gift I can freely receive, trusting that being receptive to it is enough. And that I am…enough.