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Once upon a time, perhaps two weeks ago or less, a most strange thing happened. It was the middle of the day, the sun shone, and breezes morphed cloud tendrils into somersaults.

There was this woman. Of all things, she found herself clinging to a rope. She had no idea how this happened, and no one was around to help. Through tears streaming down sunburnt cheeks, she looked up, then gasped—She couldn’t see the end of the rope. She looked down. The same was true there, but she heard the surf pounding the rocky shore. Perspiration moistened her legs hugging the rope, muscle pain fired distress, joints ached, and her grip crazed her knuckles. She was slipping and she knew it. She was going to fall.

 And do you know what happened to her?

 She was on the ground the whole time.

Frequently, I offered this story to stressed hospice patients, their gender matching the one on the rope. Played out by the recital of numerous ills and fears, they welcomed the diversion. Their eyes brightened as they identified with the plight of the unfortunate on the rope. Even their breathing quickened.

Then the question, … do you know what happened to her? riveted them, caused them to sit straighter. With my response, they slowly smiled. They did get it, and their duress was lifted, for the moment—Until the next visit and story.

Now that I’m the hospice patient, I sometimes feel like my eighty-four-year-old body is the rope in that story. Deep-seated habits of control prompt my holding on until waking up, once again, to my true circumstances and letting go. Only then is my contentment restored, the fruit of living the CPA 12 Steps. It’s working, one release at a time …

 

 

 

“Be still and know that I am God,” Yahweh says to Elijah, prophet and miracle worker huddled in the cave at Mount Horeb. “I’m not to be found in mighty winds, nor in earthquakes, nor in fires,” Yahweh adds.

Like Elijah fearful for his life, I am stressed.

Winds of gibberish, earthquakes of exploding shards, fires of angst still assail my psyche when left unguarded. Left behind are swathes of distortion related to the progression of my terminal illness and the illusion of being trapped in nothingness. Instincts clamor for fulfillment, at any cost while controlling the uncontrollable stresses to the max.

When under siege, I know to wait and grip my crucifix, hard. Within the madness slowly emerges the longed for stillness and I adjust to my new symptoms, awash in the wordless swirl of Creator-Love.

Such is my continuous spiritual growth as I await the deliverance of my old body—something I have to pass through.

So it’s about being still and praying …

 

 

Questions about the timing of Mary Oliver’s last publication, Upstream, Selected Essays in 2016 caught my attention. She passed in 2018.

In these nineteen essays, two of which are original to this slim volume, she left us a life-long template of her spirited struggles. It’s as if she had unfurled gossamer threads over her troubled psyche; then wove them into a wordsmith, a solitary, a listener, a passionate observer of life’s waxing and waning, a priestess.

For whatever reasons, Mary Oliver was not safe in her childhood home or in the classroom. Such fragile beginnings are nuanced in her first essay, together with the compelling influence of her mentors, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edgar Allen Poe, and Walt Whitman. Only in the surrounding woods and creek outside her semi-rural Cleveland home did she find solace; it became her Temple where she pondered, wrote, and discovered who she was, what she was, and what she wanted to be in the world.

And she became that, and exquisitely so.

Her nineteen essays in Upstream reflect her affinity with whatever flies in the skies, maneuvers on the forest floor, or swims in the ocean: a black-backed gull, a snapping turtle, a common spider, among others. Her judiciously placed words illumine the depth of her exuberance; its freshness feels like the first morning of creation. Yet, the leitmotif of death shadows its élan.

Perhaps sensing her own, she must have selected each essay in Upstream, mindful of its whorl of energy enriching the one following and plunging her readers into the mystery of living life with its imponderables.

 

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