For A Dancer

One of the most beautiful, yet saddest songs about death that I have ever heard is Jackson Browne’s For a Dancer. Maybe you’ve heard it? In my teens, friends and I loved JB’s album, “Late for the Sky,” in which the studio version of For a Dancer can be found on.

My friend Regina, who recently passed away, loved to dance and sing. I can remember being in the upstairs of her house where in her parents bedroom (the biggest room of the house), we would dance around in a circle, practicing her choreographed interpretation of The Skater’s Waltz. Now this was certainly not my idea, and probably not even my idea of a fun way to spend a rainy afternoon when your 9 or 10, but Regina could be very persuasive and she always made me laugh.

Mt.Hood 8_2013 002Death follows us throughout our short lives, peripherally, if not front and center, when we are touched by its presence – through the loss of a loved one, or as well, through our own brushes with death. Its inevitability creates the tension that gives each life its uniqueness and the mystery of our individual being.

Why are we here, rather than not here? Why now, why not some other time? What is death, what precedes it, and what follows?

On the one hand, if nothing precedes it or follows it, no big deal, some people will tell you. But it’s not the impermanence of life that gives me pause as much as it the mystery of life in the first place.

Some of us don’t like to think much about death, and will tell you that it is morbid to do so. Some find it easier to come to conclusions about what happens to us – either convinced that there is life beyond death, or that we die and that’s it, gone as if we’ve never been here in the first place.

I have a deep respect for the limits of what we can know, and I can’t define with certainty the nature of what life or death is.

But I sense that somehow, whatever it is that beats our hearts, and sustains our physical presence, is not a product of our biology, but the source of what creates our physical form and sustains us.  I’m not a scientist, or anything close to that, but there are many invisible forms of energy around us that don’t seem to exist until they are translated by some sort of device. Think radio, micro, and other waves/particles that surround us without us in any way sensing them. Maybe we are translators of God’s uncreated source of all there is.

But death is also important as an operative metaphor for change in the life we live now, and so is worth attending to, in all the hundreds of ways death will visit us. Whether through actual physical death of loved ones, or the little deaths we experience through life’s changes. Death, while seeming to be an end, or a cessation, is also transition, and movement in which we are remade, revised and reborn. Live, love, laugh and cry and when someone asks you to dance, say yes.

“I don’t know what happens when people die.

Can’t seem to grasp it as hard as I try.

It’s like a song I can hear playing right in my ear

That I can’t sing

I can’t help listening.

And I can’t help feeling stupid

Standing around

Crying as they ease you down

‘Cause I know that you’d

Rather we were dancing”

Jackson Browne – For A Dancer

If I Could Tell You

My dearest, closest childhood friend lost her battle with cancer last week, but because my husband and I were camping in the mountains, out of cell phone range, I missed the call from her husband and didn’t find out until Monday.

You can know something is going to happen, like my friend’s death, and for months if not years prior. But no amount of knowing has any bearing on the sorrow and loss that is felt when someone you love passes and becomes forever out of a familiar and habitual reach. I will though, carry the pieces of our lives that we shared along with me wherever I go and someday we’ll meet again on the other side.

My dear friend Regina, I know you are in a better place and most of all, I am relieved that you won’t suffer anymore. Outside of my husband and my family, there is no one who knows me the way you do and I will miss the effortless way we talked and laughed, no matter the years and miles between us. Stay gold my friend.

If I could tell you

Time will say nothing but I told you so,
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

There are no fortunes to be told, although,
Because I love you more than I can say,
If I could tell you I would let you know.

The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
There must be reasons why the leaves decay;
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

Perhaps the roses really want to grow,
The vision seriously intends to stay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Suppose the lions all get up and go,
And all the brooks and soldiers run away;
Will Time say nothing but I told you so?
If I could tell you I would let you know.

W.H. Auden

Less than zero

So, what exactly is it that people are doing with their lives? That is the question that carried me through the next few years following the big dream. Feeling that some semblance of sanity had returned it seemed that life was waiting for me to finally cut a path through the heart of my existence.

On fire, I could hardly contain myself with so much energy and emotional freedom. For the first time in my life I had a sense of being “one of” rather than a feeling of waiting to be born. But alas, I was to find out again and again that there are aspects of yourself, inner drives, modes of perceiving that still bind you. For me it is the drive toward knowing and understanding the meaning and purpose of existence that sustain me and are as necessary to my being as are food and water.

It would be the highest form of self betrayal were I to ignore, deny or in any way seek to be rid of this instinct for meaning.

But before I was to settle down with a fuller acceptance of what sort of life I wanted to live there were a few more wayward flings left to experience. Although I am not often given to regret my actions, I did discover during this time that there are consequences for choices made and that nothing satisfies like love, and by love I mean the conscious willing kind, whether in family, friendship, or some creative endeavor, love is the greatest work and brings the highest rewards.

None of the modern indulgences of sex, eating, drinking or the selections from the menu of alternative lifestyles were very satisfying for me once the high that comes from being secretly outrageous, right-under-the-nose of, all your “normal” friends and family wears off.

After a few years of sampling some of what the modern world has to offer, all I really wanted was to find someone to make a home and be with who is willing to travel together the long road of life, through all the day to day beauty, wonders, sorrows and losses that come our way.

I wanted to know that love really matters and makes a difference in people’s lives and that transformative experiences can happen to anyone.

I wanted to stop hurting people and not to be hurt by them. The further I go in my closest relationships the more I see that love is a choice you make moment to moment. The best we can do is to know that we are continually making choices with every breath and step we take and to try to be there when you show up.

It could be that life’s long song finally catches your ear, maybe at different times for each of us. Maybe some people do manage to avoid ever worrying about whether there is an over-arching meaning to their life, maybe some people are naturally inclined to accept and live an unreflected life as it happens, but as I have aged I have found it very disturbing to think that we humans and the little marbled ball we call Earth are IT.

Can we really claim the title of the most conscious being in the universe? Can intelligence come from non-intelligence or lesser intelligence? Is there nothing besides human consciousness that knows, in the sense that we know, that we’re alive? I find that so incredibly hard to believe. How can life come from nothing? What is the drive, the spark that brings the world into being? I am no scientist, but I have never heard a satisfactory explanation for how it is that I am here, and know I am here.

Just as disturbing, is the human awareness and experience of good and evil. Not so much the natural cycle of life and death, that life feeds on itself (disturbing as that is), but more specifically the distinctly human kind of evil that we all seem to play our part in. Try as we may, it’s as if the good is never sustainable. Everything means less than zero

This sort of thinking would lead me back to the religious question of, is there a Creator? I had become comfortable with the notion that nature is an impersonal force in which evolutionary processes compel life forms forward and if there were anymore to it, we don’t have enough information to come to any conclusions about it.

Perhaps because I had experienced a deeper and clearer sense of myself as a person, the idea of an impersonal force of nature no longer satisfied.

And so began a renewed search and reconsideration of the claims of Christianity, starting with C.S. Lewis and of course the Bible.

“I gaze into the doorway
Of temptation’s angry flame
And every time I pass that way
I always hear my name
Then onward in my journey
I come to understand
That every hair is numbered
Like every grain of sand.” Bob Dylan