Written by Gentle Jeffrey Pine.
Written by Gentle Jeffrey Pine.
memory of all nations,
remember the savannah
Do not forget us,
but accompany us,
friends of the heart,
on our trails into the future.
Remember us who come after you,
Remember us who go on before you,
Remember us who live in the heart-world around you.
… … …
I am one among millions who has known the loss of family. Maybe it is so that every living creature, when it becomes aware of its inevitable separateness from the beings most near it, feels this loss of unity, this severing of oneness. The genesis story of Eden is full of this metaphor. We were blind to our own abyssal awareness: then, we saw, and we became like gods, who who knew death, and the foresight of death, and the meaning of the anguish of self-awareness that accompanies the hominid brain.
I am a face in the sea of time: who will remember this one face? Genetics, maybe, or written words or painted images, better yet. Text is incarnated. You, God, would know most of all; You, who are always present and listening, it is your remembering us that I want for sure. You, who fill the whole earth with your breathing, must know and feel all that we feel in our creaturely lives. Being as that you are in us, and we are in you, then not one of us would be lost to the depths of time. And If you are truly omnipresent, then you would know how sacred the World is. I want to become an ancestor when it is my time. I never want to leave it.
Poetry by Gentle J. Pine
How quickly the days go by now, the weeks and the months and the years. All of a sudden I am closer to thirty than twenty. People twice my age laugh. Someday I will be countless years gone from this time. When I was a child, time crawled.
I have never had anxiety about aging until now. The only thing that matters, in the end, is looking back on a life that one has lived with purpose and dedication. I now see the signs of aging in my face, and I, too, am traveling the path of the ancestors. T is twelve years older than me, and the thought that he will likely die before I do is difficult already, but I will not be long after him.
I had a dream that T and I had grown old together and loved each other all our days. When he died, I looked for his spirit on a bright mountain. There was a tree of shimmering coppery-gold leaves, the color of his hair, and his spirit was in this tree. I went to him there and embraced him, my arms around the trunk of the happy tree, and I could feel his love eternally, and the whole soul of him in the tree enclosed me in his affection.
Buddha said, “I have gained nothing from meditation. But what I have lost: the fear of sickness, old age and death.”
I may never have children, but I don’t need to have any to feel very close to the lineage of humanity. This great love is the continuity of generations. I wonder if the fear of aging is the fear of losing touch with God, because we fear that we have not lived in the way we were meant to. I wonder if a happy aging and death is the peace of drawing nearer to God.
Animals live for a decade or so, a few species for many decades, but often we humans outlive our companion species. In some sense we humans are afflicted by the length of our lives. We must live with the conscious knowledge of our own coming death. I wonder if animals may also live with this knowledge, but they do so with more grace than we do. They do not worry about it. They simply live, and demonstrate real grace and wisdom in it. They do not mind how many years or months or days they have left. We humans carry the past and the future, struggling to stay in the present, because we remember the beloved dead of the past and the vital youths of the future in whom we hope to be born anew. This entire ancestral context of memory and love, of encircling relationships, relatives and rebirths: we keep in touch with the living and the dead.
The wisdom of the Western World, which does not need to be Eastern to be great, is fully at home with embracing and acknowledging humanity’s insatiable hunger for love and for life, even beyond death. However good Buddha’s wisdom was in its own way, it fails to be at peace (the very peace it proclaims?) with the fact that the heart of love is stronger than death. Desire is holy.
“Margaret the First” the playwright of 17th century England, married a man some twenty years her senior, and they were known to have loved each other dearly. In Danielle Dutton’s book about her life, it is recounted how they are not able to have children; one day, when she is middle-aged in her forties and he in his seventies, they kneel together beside the river, and in loving gentleness she still sees in him the handsome younger man she married, and he sees in her the young maiden likewise.
People live longer now. I spent the happier days of my childhood with my grandparents, aged 60 by the time I was born. I saw how they loved each other all the more securely in old age.
This is the way I will be with T. Age will make us love each other more.
Last night I wanted to go to sleep and wake up as a happy five-year-old in this house of my grandparents, with both my Grandma and Grandpa alive, healthy and vital, the decay of the future far away or nonexistent; that present that is now the past, eternal again in a child’s unending summer day. And I found myself crying quietly in Grandpa’s study where I sleep when I come to Fresno, California to visit, because he is ten years still gone and Grandma is here in body but is barely and unrecognizably tenuously “alive” in her spirit.
I’m twenty-eight now and, for the great majority of my adult life under the rational light of the sun, I am accepting of and at peace with the situation that has come to be: our time is one of seeing more beloved elderly people slowly and pitifully die than ever before in society, proportionate to the numbers of the young who must witness it. Our grandparents and parents, once all medical cures are exhausted, languish in a half-life awaiting death, this rite of passage of which I have increasing faith in as a great liberation and the ultimate cure itself. People are living longer, but not necessarily better lives past a certain point. It became known to me in the past few years that Grandpa had considered seeking physician-assisted self-euthanasia, had his incurable physical pain become unbearable and death had not taken him in his sleep. The thought of it would have been too hard for me to handle when, at his death, I was eighteen and he was eighty, but now I have more and more serious respect for the natural and ancient dignity in such a choice. I had the freedom to euthanize my beloved cat of thirteen years when her veterinary ailments became unbearable for her, but we are in such stupid denial about the dignity of human beings in valid situations being able to choose the same for themselves. Instead, we force our beloved humans to have their butts wiped by somebody else, a humiliation that should never be forcibly born by a person because those around them are too chicken-shit to accept the reality of death in The World.
Sometimes, it’s the very resiliency of human beings that scares me so much: we can go through any hell and keep living. Other animals are not averse to the peace of death as a natural response to a suddenly severely maladaptive environment. But we humans are terrifying in our ruthless, pertinacious will to keep breathing through any plague, and now I wonder what this insect-like insistence has made of us. We have become titans of battle against everything, against our own brains and against Nature itself, and we have become unloving of Reality, at odds with The World, constantly unaccepting of the limits of the universe. Do I share in this same inclination to be at odds with The World in my childlike longing for a theoretical universe that could have (should have, would have, but only might have) been?
I was a child of the 1990s. I’ve long had a quietly uncanny feeling that something happened in the ’90s, and it was the end of the world. It was the end– or maybe the world spun off into different directions, dimensions, and this who I am in one of them is not who I am in another. And yet I do not feel divided within myself: through all my depression and the shit I went through as a kid with an insanely emotionally abusive mom with Borderline Personality Disorder, I have had the great luck of always feeling continuously whole within myself. Imaginatively, this uncanny sense of differing possible realities is more that I was pulled into one possible universe where things were not as whole all was meant to be, and something was off, only because, in contrast, I also glimpsed that deep Beauty of the Original World peeking through into this one. As a child, I saw this through the lens of my family. And who I am here have always been a little exorcist, who descended only deeply enough in time and in worlds within worlds to confront something, finish something, set something right. And any day now I will find my way back home to where I am supposed to be, waking up, relieved, from a dream.
Back in this world, I have lately been enjoying the lighter quality of trying not to feel so much all the time, for once in my life: my nature is to be so deeply feeling that it is frequently maladaptive to my environment, and I am weak and as yet unskilled in spinning this sensitivity into strands of gold. And now it suddenly and forbiddingly occurs to me that this ability to turn away from the tender heart is the necessary –and terrifyingly natural– shadow underlying my hominid ability to uncanny adaptation. How comfortable we are pressed to become among prolonged sickness and wrongful decay in our dogged search between a rock and a hard place for survival: the loss of tender feeling for that shimmering Original World, peeking through the slats of our weighted days, becomes an unbearable heartache for those with too much to carry. So much of an aging human life is full with the totalistic and unbending trial of coming to accept the absolute finality of death and loss, when still our persistent hearts in their deepest chambers yearn for life eternal. Among all of this, we must find a way to be happy– on pain of death. No wonder that those who find a path of absolute acceptable of reality while somehow keeping a tender heart are rightly called the saints of our species. And so I wonder if the Christians really have it right about something: humanity’s omnipresent longing for a semblance of eternal life, evident in all cultures, makes me wonder if there’s really something to it, in the way that hunger is an indicator that food exists somewhere.
But I am here now, born into this land of the vast old Earth, where my species is restless and beautiful and full of ancient and unknowable strangeness. Drifting into sleep last night I heard the night birds of this warm valley cooing their evening song from their perches and nests, calling steadily to their mates in their peaceful language, comforting their young in their downy breasts. I know their names, some of them, and the names and intimate formations of the trees that they love, that I love with a tender heart, that are bequeathed to me in an unending ancestry of natural lives in exchange. It was the Descent of Man, a going-down which Darwin spoke of, into the World to be among it completely, in totality. And in this moment of my brief human heart in the glorious life of the dark Earth I want nothing more than to be among the sounds of the night-songs forever, here in The World, so deeply is their avian comfort entwined with the blanketing world of the dusk, the old bones of the mother-sound of my animal life.
“In mythos and fairy tales, deities and other great spirits test the hearts of humans by showing up in various forms that disguise their divinity. They show up in robes, rags, silver sashes, or with muddy feet. They show up with skin dark as old wood, or in scales made of rose petal, as a frail child, as a lime-yellow old woman, as a man who cannot speak, or as an animal who can. The great powers are testing to see if humans have yet learned to recognize the greatness of soul in all its varying forms.”
― Clarissa Pinkola Estés