Facing Mortality, Embracing Life

By Bob Calhoun

“Life is short…and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are traveling the dark journey with us. Oh, be swift to love, make haste to be kind.”( Henri-Frederic Amiel 1821-1881)

Last week I waited patiently at a familiar intersection for the light to turn green. As it did, I took my foot off the brake pedal moving slowly forward, looking left, then right, then left again … a driver came barreling around the bend and through the intersection at 45 MPH seemingly without a clue that the light had turned or that there was a traffic light at all. I took a deep breath… and proceeded with my left turn. Dodged that bullet.

Three years ago, having just turned 70, the doctors said I had one to three years to live. Small cell carcinoma, stage IV. Chemotherapy, radiation, surgeries and ongoing immunotherapy. It has been three years now. I anticipate each upcoming scan. My oncologist says I’m an outlier.

Of what have I been reminded … about this life in all my hours, days and now years of visiting the cancer center?

Life is short … for all of us. We know the number of years lived varies for each of us. I am reminded of my middle daughter dying at 10 1/2 months…my nephew’s young wife dying at age 32 of brain cancer. We each have our own list of losses. However, for many of us, we are able to measure our lives in decades…life on an elder journey, having been blessed with time, relationship, compassion received, opportunity , food, shelter, and quality medical care.

Of what have I been reminded?

“The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you
Don’t go back to sleep
You must ask for what you really want
Don’t go back to sleep!
People are going back and forth
Across the doorsill where the two worlds touch,
The door is round and open
Don’t go back to sleep!” (Rumi 1207-1273)

Rumi was not dealing with speeding automobiles, stop lights or the over abundance of digital interactions… yet much the same, with daily routine and distractions, physical vulnerability, plagues, violence and securing the basic necessities of life. But even in his day, he speaks of how easy it is to miss the mystery and miracle of life.

Stay awake….don’t get drawn back into the unawareness…ask for what you really want and follow the prompts that call you to be yourself….now. We can easily forget the deep center of self and this amazing life flow of which we are all apart. We must stay awake, Rumi reminds us, to see the beauty, the mystery, the connections and coincedences that surround us and come upon us daily.

Don’t go back to sleep.

Of what have I been reminded as time has been abruptly brought back into focus?

We do not pass this way again. What a gift to have lived into the last third of life, to receive from and offer to others compassion. Be present, love deeply, be real, give of your true self, respond to your gift calling from within and have the courage to follow its path. Many events and circumstances can wake us up, help us refocus. Yet it doesn’t have to be a speeding car, or a cancer diagnosis. It can be the discipline of quiet, focus and intentional action. A Conscious Eldering retreat was for me a wonderful example of an exercise of awakening into the ‘now’ of this life while we still are alive and vital.

“Listen to your life. All moments are key moments. Life itself is grace.” (Frederick Buechner 1926-2022).

Of what have I been reminded?

Life is Short …be swift to love, make hast to be kind…
The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you, don’t go back to sleep…
Listen to your life… all moments are key moments… life itself is grace.

Be grateful to be on the journey.

Bob Calhoun is a retired counseling psychologist living in Fort Collins, Colorado and a past Center for Conscious Eldering retreat participant. Bob is the author of Twenty Acres Deep, Poems and Reflections from the Rocky Mountains. His book is available at oldfirehousebooks.com or by contacting Bob at bob@bobcalhounpsychologist.com

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