Thursday, April 14, 2016

On Living Your Dash

 *If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, then you know how I like to completely overwhelm your senses with words and music.  So, if you want to experience this the way I intend for you to, then please press play on this video before you begin reading.  And maybe grab a box of tissues.

My father has not been well.  It has been a hard thing to come to terms with emotionally.  Our certain mortality.  Our fragile humanity. We are all born with an expiration date.  So I have decided to hold him lightly like a wild bird that I have found and been able to hold and see its beauty up close if only for a minute. I will commit to memory every detail and paint them in my heart with the beauty and pain of blood and love.  I cannot hold him tightly for he is not mine to keep, and it would hurt too much when he is pulled from my hands.

We didn't always get along.  He was a younger man full of strong opinions and stronger words and I was a younger girl full of my own ideas and a will made of steel, unwilling to bend for anything other than my own fickle whims.  We fought brilliantly, both of us being disposed to passionate dispositions yet never seeing eye to eye.  It wasn't until marriage and children began to tie my wild and restless heart to the ground and life and age had dealt him a few heavy blows that I realized he was perhaps the only other person in the world that felt and saw things as intensely as I did. Because I WAS him, and he was me, in part anyway.  Both of us sharing our own colorful blend of the mysterious and creative DNA that comprises us.

Time softened our sharp edges and we have fallen into a most lovely and tender relationship.  I have said that I was sorry for who I was once and he has said the same and we moved beyond the hurt of the past that can grip people until their deaths and never really let them be free to love. We have rewritten the story and decided how it will be because this is our one life and our choice.

in the past few months we have spent some time together and I have had the immense privilege of bearing witness to his discovery of a new passion.  He has taken up painting, and while we all knew he was a very talented artist (that's how me made his living, in another form, for most of his life), I don't think we were prepared for the excellence that would seem to flow effortlessly from his mind to the brush at the end of his fingers.  Watching someone attempt and execute something so brilliantly again and again is nothing short of a gift and I feel truly special to have been privy to the process. He is giving the world the beauty that resides within him.  Ultimately, I think that is a part of each of our purpose in this life: to share the beauty we have with the world.  To leave it a more beautiful place in some way.

During his most recent visit as we were riding in the car together, he leaned in and said quietly "Jill, whatever you do, finish that book.  You have a gift.  It's just a gift.  Please finish it."  You see, I'm in the process of writing a book meant for children but one that can help anyone.  It began as an idea one day, a colorful string in my mind that I started to pull at until it unravelled into something wonderful that I knew wasn't even from me, but something bigger than me, and that I must put to paper.  So some months ago, I began the process of weaving the fragments of thought and strings of words into something cohesive, into the finished product that I saw in my mind.  It has proven more difficult than I envisioned and has evolved into something even bigger than I originally thought.  And at times, I have let the details of life overwhelm me and the book took a seat on the back burner of my mind.

I spent a lot of time thinking about that.  About finishing that book.  I will finish it, I AM finishing it.  But what if I was struck by a truck and killed today?  What would I leave behind?  My life recently has had much talk of death and I realize that we all must leave a legacy behind, wether we do so consciously or not.  We leave a watermark of ourselves upon the hearts and minds of those we touched, or hurt, or loved.  Every day you are impressing upon others an unseen image of yourself.  We will all one day be memories, what kinds will we be?

And I wondered if I had done anything worth remembering, and was struck with a sharp pain of sadness and regret because of all of the many things I had begun and not finished in my lifetime.  I felt as though all the many colors and beautiful bursts of feeling and heart that happen within me at any given moment, and that I am meant to share with the world, would go down hidden within the craggy depths of my mind and lie forever unrevealed, never sharing their beauty with another soul. And that thought was almost more than I could bear.  But then, like dappled patches of sunlight dancing upon the forest floor through a canopy of trees, beautiful memories began to come to me.

I have written on this blog for almost ten years now, birthing from my heart for you to have and hold, the innermost revelations of my mind.   People still write to me to tell me how some bit of my soul that I shared years ago will come to their mind from time to time.  I have laughed with someone who was sad until the sadness left and I have loved with 100% of my heart always because I don't know any other way to love.  I have written and directed many plays for children based upon some of my favorite stories of the Bible.  I've facilitated writer's groups and initiated a tropical island's first ever Story Slam.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that even if all the threads in my mind never fully materialize for the rest of humanity, I have left my watermark.  I have been one small ripple in the great big lake of life, and my ripple has reached out and touched people who made ripples of their own, who will keep making more ripples that stretch out into the horizon until we can no longer see or know the effect we have but which is a fact that makes it no less real.

Yesterday two people from my writer's group in Guam reached out to me to express how they were in some way carrying on the legacy of the group I began years ago and how it had helped them step outside of their comfort zones and meet and work with people that they perhaps never would have.  And that, that thing is living on in ways all its own.  That realization made me cry.  The fact that all the while I never felt like I had really accomplished anything worthwhile or hadn't made any significant contribution to the world in terms of art or passion or creativity, but when all along I had been in small ways without ever realizing  it.

When my great-grandmother died two years ago at the age of 97, I pondered her legacy.  She lived from 1917-2014; a beginning and an ending and that dash in between was her life.  That dash is our life.

That dash is our life.

And as I thought about the impermanence and ephemeral qualities of life, I was again reminded with great affection and tenderness how very beautiful it is, at times excruciatingly so.  The gentle sway of new leaves in the spring breeze.  The contagious belly-laugh of a child.  The symphonic dance of a flock of birds in the autumn sky.  The age-mottled hand of your parent in your own, theirs once so big and yours once so small, like an acorn and now an oak.  We are nothing more than waves on the sandy beach of this life, one generation guiding in the new and the new becoming the old and ushering out the one that guided us in.

Even if I never write another thing, I am confident in the truth that I have left nothing unsaid between anyone whom I love and I have lived this dash so far with complete passion and in a quest for beauty and truth and to share all that I have found with whoever will hear and see it.  And I know that in some small ways it has been fruitful.

Live your dash.  Don't wait until someone is dead to eulogize them, call them today and tell them what they mean to you and all the ways they are lovely and good.  Smile at a stranger.  Be kind to animals and children and even grumpy old men. Stop what you're doing and be still and listen to the breeze and the birds.  Leave your watermark in the shape of a heart.