My mother told me yesterday evening that the folks who came for the end of the month open food shelf at church took home a bunch of the things I had left on the tables from our tag sale last week. The tag sale was lots of fun, I met so many good people, and when it was done I left everything there at the church and told everyone I knew to tell everyone they know to help themselves.
Some folks seemed sad, some confused, that I’m getting rid of pretty much everything I own, but if you lived a life like mine: nomadic, with ever-widening concentric circles of responsibilities, love and desires (to be with my kids, to serve the world in creative ways, to spend time with the people I love), you would start to see the ownership of stuff as a problem, too. With a new position as pastoral care coordinator at an elder community in Saratoga, the place where I grew up, this fall I will be “living” in three different places.
Is it weird? Crazy? Unsustainable? I’ll find out. Something will have to give, no doubt. In the meantime, I’m releasing the things I’ve collected in the days when I was homesteading. And it makes me giddy with delight and relief.
When people are dying, and I’ve been hanging around the dying for a good solid six years now, so I’ve seen every imaginable configuration, diagnosis, age, scenario. Rich, poor, young, old, surprised, angry, tired, desperately hungry for more. But not more trips to Target, not a new car, not more stemware, shoes, rooms, money, books. More time. Everyone always wants more time. They want more time with their kids and grandkids. They want more time to do the things they put off doing when they weren’t sick. They want more time to just be in this world, doing things with their people.
Six years of witnessing that and it starts to sink in: many of our habits are misguided. We’ve been sold a bill of goods that ultimately makes most of us miserable: we’ve been trained to think we should want more, bigger, newer. Our consumeristic tendancies, our unnquenchable thirst for more stuff, our jealous longing for what that other person has are a tremendous waste of resources and lead us down a road to spiritual and physical exhaustion. I read recently that one in ten Americans is taking an anti-depressant. How did it come to this? How did we become so unhappy? So lost?
Time is our most precious commodity and we don’t know it until it’s almost all gone. We don’t recognize happiness until we see it in the rear view mirror. We seem to be unable or unwilling to exist peacefully inside our own lives. If we accumulated less and gave away more, perhaps then we would find satisfaction. If we treasured time and gathered love the way we hoard stuff no one would die with regrets.
And believe me when I tell you, everyone dies with regrets.
When I tell people about the hospice thing they usually scrunch up their face and say something like, “that must be so hard … I could never do that.”
I wish everyone would though. I wish hospice training and hospice volunteering were a mandatory part of the curriculum of life. Because it’s only when we face death that we start to understand how to live. Death is life’s greatest champion. Death looks you straight in the eye and says Get to the point, cut the shit, we ain’t got all day.
For those requiring more tender language, death wraps her wily self around us and reminds us of what really matters: people, love, trees, dogs, the deepest yearnings of your heart, the members of your family, facing the truths about yourself so you can put that aside and get on with the business of being present and accounted for. We have a lot of dress rehearsals: we die to our dreams, we experience death in relationships, we lose our way, our focus, our health and eventually our bodies. Eventually we face The Loss: the clock strikes midnight and not only does the coach turn back to a pumpkin, we turn back into stardust.
Its hard to hold a baby when you’re dust. It’s hard to say I love you when you no longer have lips. It’s impossible to sit and talk with your kids when you’re dead.
Mom told me that a woman who came to the food shelf said that she had nothing hanging on her walls and so she took all of my photographs home with her. They were some of my favorites, nicely framed. I always hated putting a price tag on my work, always believed that everyone should have access to photography, nice imagery. I don’t think I can describe how happy it made me to hear that that woman took all those pictures home with her yesterday, maybe hung them on her walls, looked at images I have loved before she went to sleep last night. Woke up today and gazed at them again. This is the treasure of a life.
Peace in your hearts, my friends. Put your phones away today and be present with your people, be present with yourself. Be present in this beautiful world. Be generous with your gifts, with your time, with your love. You’ll never regret it, I promise.