Gratitude and Acceptance
Whenever I am stressed or needlessly fretting over an inconsequential thing, Melanie has always encouraged me to breathe in gratitude and breathe out acceptance. And miraculously like a balm that soothes and quiets my worries, I feel better and suddenly I see everything in a more positive way. I’ve called upon this resource recently to cope with sorrow.
This morning (August 19th) we learned of the death of a very dear friend, and a former colleague of mine, Elizabeth Scarborough. Cognizant of approaching death, she remained cheerful throughout, never losing her humor and sharp wit. Even as cancer slowly destroyed her body, her spirits were lofty. She had been preparing for death for the last two plus years and left this life full of vigor, active in her church and fully engaged in life. We last saw her a couple of days before we left town on July 26th. The way she faced death was a lesson in how to live. She never complained about her illness and the pain and discomfort she endured. She greeted everyone with a smile, rarely speaking of her suffering. She was more interested in a lively conversation with others or offering her thoughts about the current political debacles. We had many good conversations over the years about growing up in Louisiana, she from the Protestant north, and I from the Catholic south. We laughed about how those two disparate worlds intersected yet remained totally different, each in the same state, but culturally apart.
Until her death, she was an eager learner and a voracious reader. Besides talking about growing up in the South, we shared what each was reading. A die-hard Unitarian Universalist, she retained a keen interest in the world’s shared humanity. She read about and reflected sincerely on all religious faiths believing that each had truths upon which to base our lives. She and I had an amicable repartee about Protestantism and Catholicism. She read many books about dying. One of those books she shared with me, Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. For those of us who shared the last few years with Elizabeth, we learned in the face of death how to live gracefully. And we all share in gratitude for having had her in our lives. She will be missed, no doubt, but she lives in the hearts of her fellow UU’s and friends.
As Elizabeth’s death is a transition, so is the recent wedding of my son, Paul, and new daughter-in-law, Katie, as they enter into a new and shared life together. But they too are facing sorrow as they accept the imminent death of a fellow MFA graduate, now in hospice care with a tumor in the brain. They share in gratitude the lovely person they’ve come to love and appreciate. Life will soon end for their friend, and theirs begin anew through their wedding vows by which they expressed gratitude for each other. As they begin that journey colored with joy and pain, their mutual love will be a constant source of comfort.
The older I become, the more conscious I am of life’s fragility. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. Therefore, I’ve come to appreciate more and more the family and friends I cherish, and for them, I breathe in gratitude. I have a sister and a dear friend who suffer from multiple sclerosis. If I could, I would heal them at a snap of the fingers. But I can’t. But as I’ve watched this debilitating disease slowly sap their energy and limit their motor abilities, I’ve learned from them acceptance, humility and the power of positive thinking. Neither dwells on the limitations imposed by their illness. Rather each lives life happily and fully, using their talents as they are able. I am the beneficiary of the joy that they export, and for this I am grateful.
Melanie and I are grateful for our children and grandchildren. Our blessings extend particularly to Paul and Katie as they begin their new life together. And, of course, we are grateful for each other. We’ve been enjoying our extended seven week road trip out west, first to attend Paul’s and Katie’s wedding in the redwoods of Northern California. Before arriving in Portland, we spent a few days in redwood country, with friends in Crescent City and Eureka, where Melanie and I met during my time as provost and vice chancellor at Humboldt State University. Not much has changed since we left seventeen years ago; Humboldt County still retains that gritty, hippie-looking throwback to the sixties. Leaving Northern California, we stopped in Ashland to visit friends and watched the Oregon Shakespeare Theater’s production of Guys and Dolls. For the last two weeks we’ve been with two and a half year old Eliot who has boundless energy. We’ve been thrilled by his play antics, jumping from the sofa into a pile of pillows on the floor. As he says, “This is really very fun for me.”
Since retirement two years ago, I’ve welcomed the freedom to explore more of my inner self, to do the things that I enjoy and to contribute to my community in meaningful ways without the burden of formal employment. When I’m in town, I’m busy attending board meetings, working with the 100 Black Men of Greater South Bend, meeting with others in the community and doing other volunteer tasks. Carving out time for reading or spending more time in the garden gets squeezed into whatever free time I can muster. That my life in retirement is jammed with activity is a blessing for which I am grateful. And for the moment I accept that more leisure time is wanting.
Soon, we’ll begin our eastern trek home. On the way we’ll see friends in Victor, ID and Estes Park, CO. The final leg will be over Labor Day weekend with Tim and Pat Size attending plays by the American Theater Company. We’ll be home for a few days and then on the road again to Maine for a week-long celebration of Melanie’s and four of her high school girlfriends’ seventieth birthday. We’ll visit Amanda in Boston and Melanie’s brother and his wife in Cape Cod before going to New Orleans for my brother, Warmoth’s, wedding.
Yes, I’m beginning to feel like a rolling stone, a wayfarer traveling across America. And although, I’d welcome a respite at home, I am grateful for the family and friends I’ve seen on this journey. There is nothing wanting in my life. For this I breathe in gratitude and breathe out acceptance.