I walk the sidewalks of my home town at night. The pretty Victorians have lights on in various rooms shining out of their large windows. I thought I would be in one of those homes growing old and surrounded by family. Yet I am passing these houses alone.
I had affairs of the heart with travel, and writing and solitary pursuits like sitting in silence in a Zendo with nothing but my monkey mind to tame. Finally I breathed those affairs of heart into an actual life and left my home behind–or did it leave me? By the time I closed the door the couch hadn’t been sat on and the table had no coffee cups left behind. It was empty. In the end it may not matter how it happened.
Because no matter how deeply we love our lives, we are called upon eventually to face our aloneness and in doing this a new truth enlivens us.
My parents clung to each other for more than fifty years. They stayed in the home I grew up in and changed virtually nothing. They let the seasons pass and opened their arms and home joyfully when their beloveds came and went. It was never often enough. They battled loneliness and aging and my mom dreamed one day they would travel to far off lands together until it became obvious she had missed that opportunity. She fought dementia. My dad lived with heart disease. he took care of mom without her knowing it until finally he couldn’t.
We surrounded his hospital bed for days in a Bohemian huddle, shoes off, coats tossed here and there, meals and snacks and napping in chairs and on window sills refusing to leave him. The small room was a family chaos of chatter with a dozen separate conversations and coffee runs hourly. My dad and I would make eye contact and knew we had the same thought–so loud, so crazy, so well intended. It wasn’t until we all left to get rest that he slipped out the back door when no one was looking. We got the call at around 5am–he’s gone. So like my dad to sail off alone. Despite the constancy of their lives it ended with dad going ahead and going alone. I am not sure there’s anything to be done about that-about the solitary nature of our comings and goings no matter how you lay out your life.
Now mom is letting go of her once and former life. Her biggest comfort is her dog she has named Ace. The old Pitbull watches over her and wraps himself around her at night as she sleeps. They walk wordlessly in the yard looking at the trees and the sky and she is re-born with her pet, the friend who understands her now and takes her exactly as she comes to him. She is happy with him in her yard.
Here is what I am thinking as I ponder mom and dad and my own children off in their own homes and cities as I walk. Let me let you in on this odd secret. It is only in accepting that we are alone that we find we are not really. We see the connection to a larger family. My mother was not a lover of animals nor nature as we grew up. It was all just another problem to be cleaned up and kept off her freshly mopped floors. In her aloneness she discovered a connection to nature and her non human friend which eluded her and with which she now finds comfort. My father before he died spoke to me in whispers about the water in Italy, the life below the surface and the sound of the waves as the sea met land. I feel certain he was there on the beach alone yet deeply connected when he died.
In knowing that our love matters more than its trappings or proximity we begin to understand its expansiveness. We are in reality and in substance made of the same stuff as every other living thing and connected by the air we breathe and the water we need to live. The moth and butterfly are your family members as well as the fish and your uncle George. My dad knew it as he died and my mom knows it now as she wanders the fields delighted by the quiet hum of life.
I know it walking past these homes not so different from my old house. I love everyone who lived and visited under that roof and now I love everyone under that Autumn sky with the stars shining down on us as well. My love did not end-it expanded. It is a paradox that only in being alone can we learn that we are never really alone. You do not need to die, develop dementia or leave your old life behind to understand this–you just need to allow the silence and listen to the knowing of your own heart, the small voice within which tells you the real truth. You are love and lovingly connected to all of life in its many and varied forms.
As I round the corner back to my apartment I notice a slug making his way across the sidewalk. He will be stepped on without intervention. I pick up a rock and move slowly toward him. Sitting on the sidewalk near him I think, “C’mon buddy. I’m going to nudge you with this rock and turn you back toward the grass so you don’t get hurt.” I never have to touch him. He feels the presence of the rock and my hand, turns himself around and goes back to the grass, down a small crevice which I didn’t know was there and goes on his way safely. I see the shadow of his antennae as he slips away. I am smiling and thinking, “Good job my friend. Sleep sweetly.”
Later I curl up in my little bed with the moon peaking through my window and I hear the far off sounds of a cat tiptoeing through grass. I drift into dreams of my mom and I holding hands as little girls chasing the fog as it blows in from father’s ocean full of dreaming fish and whales. The pictures of my daughter, son and grand daughter look on as they lay in their beds no doubt dreaming under a sky full of stars which covers all it loves–all that lives.