Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pondering Loss, Gratitude and Life

Having recently celebrated The Day of the Dead here in Santa Fe, I have been acutely aware of the power of loss in recent weeks. The celebration of the Day of the Dead in both the Southwest U.S. and Mexico brings the notion of death and loss into the light of day. This time of year is seen as a period where "the veils between the worlds" are somewhat thinner, leaving the dead and the living in closer proximity to one another.

That said, Autumn is often a time of loss for many of us. We grieve the death of Summer, the death of the warmer weather (if we live in an area with normal changes of season), and we either embrace or resist the coming Winter and the more internal hibernatory nature of the colder months.

For me, this Autumn certainly brings with it a sense of loss as Summer wanes and Winter begins to take hold. It also brings to mind past losses and future losses yet to be.

One year ago, my wife and I pulled up stakes in Western Massachusetts, sold most of our belongings, and set out on the open road in a used mobile home that we purchased as our ticket to freedom. That leave-taking was difficult after twenty rich years of life in one place, but it seemed like the right time to leave, and we seized the moment.

Not two weeks after our departure, a dear friend took his own life, forcing us to return to New England in order to mourn his sudden death. This week marks the one-year anniversary of his last desperate and violent act, and the falling leaves and chilly air conjure images of a cold November day last year when thirty of us stood outside the barn where he had hung himself, sharing stories of our dear friend David.

Now, another friend on the East Coast is battling metastatic ovarian cancer, and her poor prognosis and continuing decline give us pause as we note her long-standing importance in our lives and the distinct possibility of losing her.

As I write this post, my eighty-year-old father (who was, by the way, loathe to celebrate his 80th birthday for fear of what this new decade would bring) is beginning what seems to be a slow decline, showing signs of early Alzheimer's, physical weakening, and a general diminishing of the childlike and optimistic spirit that has been his lifelong calling card.

Just this afternoon, a neighbor underwent surgery, and although she is young, healthy and vibrant, it is yet another reminder of the transient nature of our bodies, and the risks we all run by simply being incarnate human beings.

I am grateful for this life, for the people and animals who inhabit it, and I am again and again reminded how, by the grace of God, I continue to be a healthy and intact person who has a roof over his head, money in the bank, food to eat, clothes on my back, a car to drive, and an abundance of loving people around me. It is no small miracle, and the ubiquitousness of loss and death are yet another reminder of just how lucky I truly am.

As David's spirit continues on it's journey and as our dear friend grapples with the cancer that may eventually end her life, I am cognizant of my own continued blessings and how they are not to be taken for granted.

The mysteries of life are legion, but the importance of appreciating that mystery trumps every petty complaint and worry that crosses the mind. For me, the greatest lesson is the need for consistent gratitude, even in the face of loss and grief. It is a steep learning curve, yet one well worth the effort and energy to surmount in the hopes of experiencing peace, acceptance, and the knowledge that life is a gift never to be wasted.
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