Who Am I? (written 2008)
What is the self at all, but a dragging forward of what is familiar, like children who carry a beloved blanket until it is in tatters. It is ragged from dragging, and no longer soft and comforting to the touch, yet too precious to let go completely.
This habit of constructing and of overlaying the present with the past, even imagined pasts, and certainly imagined futures is a trap for me and for all those I love. Thinking I know them, I do not allow them to change. Thinking I know myself, I do not feel the changes happening, in fact I may even deny them.
Aging. I will soon be 54. How does aging feel? My mom used to say she didn't feel any different than she had at 20. Well, ok, I understand that on a certain level. I have difficulty grasping how quickly the years pass. I am at the stage of life when we are expected to be talking of retirement plans. On Halloween night both boys were out, and we made dinner and listened to tapes of old “Shadow” radio programs and I was thinking: “This is like this.” I glimpsed what an empty house means in visceral terms. I'll miss them. But solitude is a good place for me. A natural place. I feel, there, like a fish in water. I breathe more easily. So it's not that I need to fill space. I don't imagine myself joining a bridge club and getting 3 little dogs, or taking in boarders. These actions would be a great divergence from the conditions now in place.
Still, I will miss the boys. The impromptu talks in the kitchen or on the stairs or while I'm folding laundry, when one of them finds me and has a plan or a passion or a worry to share. Being taunted when I lose at ping pong or can't understand a computer game. The “what if” games. Life will lose its randomness in many ways. The spices. A nourishing meal still with all the food groups but low on flavor. That's what I think now anyway. I suppose it will take time to notice the nuances of flavor that emerge without the “hot peppers” present!
When I watch my boys these days I am savoring and trying to memorize, striving to know them, the mystery of them and their way of being in the world. When I watch them my vision is full of memory, hope, imaginings. It is never pure. Never completely clean and present.
When I watch my husband, too, each vision is overlaid by years of being together. I see his parents in some movement or tone of voice, and I bow inside to the inevitable influence of our genetic heritage. I wonder to what degree I carry my own parents. The hand rubbing I catch myself doing always makes me think of Mom. The voices and faces I call up to play with the kids is my dad. But how else do they inform who I am?
And then the unanswerable question of ancestors. Not just the grandparents I knew. But all the “greats” stretching back in time. Grandparents, yes, and aunts and cousins. I see people like me in farm kitchens, on ships from Ireland, on plantations in the south. Cowboys. Were there other teachers? Writers? I imagine nuns and monks and priests, knowing my deep turning to these mysteries and the greater meaning of life.
Growing older also means the accumulation of experience, of selves in my past, that I recognize as part of this stream but feel so little common ground with now. The flighty teen, the self-absorbed young woman, the single-minded hedonist, the self that feared being one in a world of couples, the self that believed in fairy tale outcomes and perfect worlds, the self that harmed others thoughtlessly in pursuing what looked like happiness.
How did that chain bring me here to the breath? Lately, I've been in a dark place for awhile.I trust that in some way I'm moving again from the melancholy of dukkha (suffering)recognition to a place where sukkha (happiness) is noted as well. I feel that happening. And I wonder about the slow development of equanimity. Is this how it grows? Gradual awakening. Not a single moment of insight but a slow shift to the incomplete wisdom this life offers.