Yesterday, I turned 47. It wasn’t a particular milestone like 40 or 50 or 21. It just sort of happened. Which is fine. Being “of a certain age” has its advantages. I am far less obsessed with outward appearances than I was when I was younger. I’m more forgiving, having made quite a few mistakes myself. I’m more relaxed, and generally more at ease in my own skin than I was at 20.
Years ago, when I was in my late twenties, I lost a college friend to cancer. I attended her funeral, but it was a surreal experience. It was alien. It was absolutely sad, and a tragedy for her young children, but it didn’t feel quite real to me at the time. It was as though I experienced the whole thing from a safe distance. It wasn’t something I consciously tried to do. I comforted her husband (and myself ) with the sure certainty of seeing her again in heaven.
Recently, our community lost a vibrant professional woman and mother younger than me to a sudden heart attack. Even though I barely knew this woman, her passing seemed to feel solid and tangible in a way that the earlier death did not. The reason is that I’ve gradually become conscious of my own mortality in a way that I hadn’t when I was in my twenties. For lack of a better term, I dwell with it. It is a presence. My thoughts on heaven have shifted considerably in the intervening years as well. Less certainty, more Mystery.
Mortality is our companion on the human journey, whether we acknowledge it or not. It sits in the shadows, at the edge of our vision. We can glance in its direction, nodding our heads in greeting, or we can turn away, pretending like we do when we see that annoying person we don’t want to talk to in the supermarket.
Lately, I turn and nod. Mortality smiles gently back at me. We see each other. We are not yet well acquainted, but I expect we will be in due time. She has become a companion, this goddess of the finite. And I’m finding that instead of fearing her, I rather like her. She keeps me grounded. She nudges me in the direction of being mindful. She points to the night sky, to billions of unknowable galaxies stretching back countless eons, and keeps me in my place. She gives me perspective.
We travelers together on this small blue dot have tiny lives that can end abruptly without forethought or planning on our part. This is reality. But for however long it lasts, here we are: alive, creating meaning out of nothingness, weaving lives from the threads of our experiences, now and then glancing in the corner to see the one who holds the scissors.
Rebecca writes, teaches, and dreams in northwest Pennsylvania. She meditates by hanging out the laundry, and contemplates Zen koans with her cats, who are masters of living well.