ONE with the Truth

flash fiction, rocking chairIt’s taken me 89 years, two months, and 26 days to figure it out.

But Lord help me, I have figured out what no one told me all these living days.

I don’t blame the people in my early life. My grandmother’s folk (she had 14 siblings) spent their lives just surviving. The earlier generations didn’t have time to figure out what was real, because life was just too damned hard.

But we technocratic, soft-skinned, thin-skinned spoiled people of the 21st century – we have no excuse. We have toilets and warm showers and grocery stores packed with food. We have vehicles of all sizes and shapes to transport us anywhere; free education from 5 to 18 years; easy chairs to sit in and stare into our gas fireplaces just to ponder. No need to chop our wood and cook our meat on that fire. We just use it to warm our souls and ponder. Yes, to just think.

Not that thinking helped me figure it out. The opposite, really. Continue reading

The End

the end, endings, poem

The end could be the beginning, or,

it could really damn well be the END.

A famous quote is needed here –like “to be or not to be.”

No Shakespeare am I, but I wonder if

“The end of never is the beginning of always”?

Books finish with The End. But is the story over?

Do the characters live on, at least in the reader’s mind?

In that case, the end is never-ending – infinite,

at least until the last reader is gone.

 

A week before my dad died, he declared, 

“I’ve realized that when I die, it’s over.

Nothing is left but cold old bones.

I go nowhere, and nowhere is the end.”

I ignored him, hoping for some hope but

held his hand when he took his last breath.

Joyfully we both realized at the same time

That he was wrong.

 

end, beginning, life, books

 In honor of National Poetry Month, and in the words of Rumi:

Listen-to-presences

 

 

A Plant Well Loved

baby ficus, plant, mournIs it strange to mourn a plant?

Benji had been a mere babe when we brought him to our California home back in the ‘80s, a vibrant lush green Ficus, about 2 feet high and 1 foot wide. Then, for 16 years he savored his spot in the sunny corner of our dining room.

Until suddenly, we needed to move to the other coast, and Benji wasn’t invited. No moving company would guarantee the safety of a now almost 5 foot by 5 foot splendid plant.

“I won’t go without Benji,” I declared.

So we packed him in a wardrobe box for the move, and as we unfurled the plant two weeks later in the sunny spot made just for him in our new, New England home, I heard him sigh, long and happy.

Ahhhhhhhhhhh.

He breathed in the oxygen and gave it out, growing in his big corner. The piano sat on one end, solid and staid, while Benji stretched and grew on his end, filling up the large ‘Great Room’ as the Yankees call it.

Great Room, Ficus, sunnny room, loveWhen guests walked into the spacious room with high ceilings, tall windows, a masculine brick fireplace highlighted by built-in bookcases, all they noticed at first was Benji. Not the wood floors or Oriental rug or ivory couches or glass-topped tables.

Just Benji.

For 10 more years Benji thrived, and at 6 foot tall, he owned the room like a king on his throne.

Until it was time for us to move again, and this time, the law dictated that no plant could be transported to the west coast.

No friends or relatives or even strangers would take Benji – he was too big. But the new residents of our New England home agreed to keep him.

I left instructions: water once a week, not too much and not too little. Let him soak in the light. Talk to him. Enjoy him.

Half a year later, I returned to our past, to the house in New England, and to Benji. I peeked into the Great Room, and saw the wood floors and the bookcases and the fireplace, but no Benji.

Ah, there he was, just a ghost of himself, down to 4 feet by 2, wispy, yellow.

Pathetic.

And I cried for our beloved plant,

Who no longer owned the room.

Like a child not well loved, or a pet kept outdoors, or a spouse ignored, Benji gave up. I felt silly, feeling so sad about this dying plant, but really…

Wouldn’t you?

Benji

[Ficus benjamina, commonly known as the Weeping Fig, Benjamin’s Fig, or the Ficus Tree and often sold in stores as just a “Ficus”, is a species of fig tree, native to south and southeast Asia and Australia.]

Dying – an Unhappy Affair?

Why do we, as a culture, have such a difficult time discussing, respecting, understanding death?

 In the past few years I’ve watched two close relatives die – my father and my mother-in-law. Neither of these deaths was pretty or dramatic, the only two ways I’ve seen death explored in our visual media – T.V. and movies. After being with my dad on the day he died, I now watch media death scenes with derision.

 Yeah, sure, the character’s dying of cancer, but she’s wearing lipstick and can talk to her loved ones seconds before she takes her last breath.

Or, oh, watch the cowboy/drug dealer/policeman take a bullet and stumble, then look out at his rescuers or killers and tell them exactly what they want to hear before his heart stops.

Even our most gruesome shows, like CSI or Bones, show the dead person after he or she’s died. I guess it’s easier to go after the bad guy than watch the slow painful effects as the victim slowly succumbs.

Of course, there are a few exceptions. Meryl Streep plays a woman ravaged by cancer in Anna Quindlen’s book-turned-into-a-movie, One True Thing, about the death of a perfect mom.  She slowly loses weight, and hair, and dignity as her life winds down to a hospital bed in the living room. Now that’s real death in America, though for some it ends in a sterile hospital room loaded with metallic devises meant to prolong the agony of dying. Either way, it’s not pretty. It’s hard, hard work. Like birth.

Are we meant to work so hard at dying? Granted, it should never be easy to die; most of us want to live forever, always able to enjoy a sunlit spring morning, a lover’s embrace, a child’s smile, a dog’s unconditional love.

But we weren’t built to last forever. Our bodies wear down, our hearts weaken, our minds turn vague.  Back in the ‘old days,’ like a century or so ago, I think dying wasn’t such a slow process. We didn’t have pills to keep the ticker ticking, chemotherapy to keep the tumor smaller, long-term health facilities to keep the dying alive no matter what. My mother-in-law’s cancer had progressed beyond rescue, and at 84, she was aware that her life was at an end. But chemotherapy was used to keep her alive for ‘at most six more months.’ For five months, she suffered through bleeding sores in her mouth and esophagus, severe nausea and vomiting, weakness and debilitating fatigue. Was it worth it – those last five months of doling out poison to keep her alive?

I guess that’s the question we should all be asking ourselves, even when we’re in our 30’s and 40’s and 50’s and feeling blessed with the joy of life.

  • When does quality of life end, and living ‘just to still be breathing’ begin?
  • How important is our life, and when does it become unimportant?
  • How much should we suffer, and do we need to suffer to have lived a full life?
  • Why are we born, and why do we die?

Perhaps if our culture wasn’t so afraid to ask these questions, dying wouldn’t be such an unhappy affair.

And we’d understand the astonishing link between birth … and death.