It was one of those rare conversations our relationship gives us, like a secret suprise banquet, every couple of years. We both awoke well after midnight and began to talk about what it really means to slow down. Our son slept heavily between us, never waking.
“How can we slow down any more,” Terry asked? Our schedules were pretty ideal. We are far from being the idle rich, but we have plenty of time to savor life.
“Its not about doing less. Its about the way I do everything. I’m always watching the clock. Tonight when I was playing with Tadg I set a schedule for how long we’d play together. That’s just silly.”
We came to realize we’d both been struggling with the same issue. We’d arrived somewhere – a home with land, a son, a garden. Our marriage led us to a place where we could really grow as individuals and as a family, yet we were both still restless.
“I think thats what the foot injury has been about, and all the other minor illnesses lately. Its more than needing to slow down. Its about finally arriving somewhere and letting go into that place.” My piece about slowing down – Learning to Mono-Task, was looking like only a first step.
The next morning the NY times ran an op-ed on the AIDS epidemic 30 years later: The Death Sentence That Defined My Life by Mark Trautwein. Its not an op-ed that I would attempt to summarize, it is profound in so many ways. The opening line sticks with me though: “I HAVEN’T died on schedule.” It seems we do everything on a schedule these days.
The piece is filled with themes of home, family, work, relationship and of course life and death. It brought me back to one day in my late Uncles life, his last day as it turned out. It was when we moved him from his home South of Market to the AIDS Hospice. Jerry, his roommate and primary caregiver, called me to help with the move. He knew it would be hard.
He made a true home for himself in a Victorian that was hauled from one side of SF to the other after the fire that followed the Great Quake of 1906. Like the pheonix rising from the ashes tatooed on his arm, it was an expression of the rebirth he’d experienced after moving to the West Coast.
He knew that if he ever left that home, his body so degenerated from years of hewing by AIDS, he would never return. I will forever remember the color of his fingers as he gripped the front door frame, refusing to let go.
His home held him through all of the trials of his illness. It gave him pleasure just to rest in its weight, sensing his antiques, the treasures he’d accumulated over a lifetime. I like to believe that despite his suffering, he was still able to taste the sweetness of life even as he drifted towards death.
Of course the preciousness of being alive only comes into focus for most of us when faced with death. These recent beatings I’ve been giving myself: first the chainsaw, then dizziness from an ear infection, next poison oak, then food poisoning, they all seem to point in one direction for me – a steady drum beat of “wake up, wake up, wake up – life is precious.”
Laying together the other night in the cool stillness left by a storm that passed South of us, I could feel the moment that rests between life and death. I sensed how it cradles us, feeds our lives endless possibilities.
It calls out to our spontaneity. It asks that we honor the extraordinary originality of life. Inevitably it asks that we be selflessly at play, even in the face of suffering and our final passage.
We take this journey together,
and unmaking life
until we learn
the night trusts us,
the birds trust us,
nothing resents us.
You shape me in your hands,
I wind and unwind you,
dry leaf yarn.
Together we make a home,
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