Isn’t this an amazing Saguaro cactus? A few weeks back I visited Scottsdale Arizona’s McDowell Sonoran Desert Preserve with a friend. There were many types of cactus and other vegetation, along with plenty of birds. The saguaro, especially one that gets “giant” status like this one – is truly a survivor of almost impossible odds. It is nature’s way. I also saw a couple smaller and younger saguaro cacti which benefitted from a “nurse plant” to a baby saguaro. These plants or trees shelter the vulnerable saguaro during critical stages of development, and after making the ultimate sacrifice for the saguaro (the nurse plant takes less and less water and nutrients as the saguaro grows bigger and stronger), it stands for years as a tribute to its sacrifice. Even in a harsh environment such as the desert, there is much cooperation and biological community.
On my drive down to Scottsdale, I travelled through the Monument Valley. Here’s one of my pictures from the Navajo tribal park there.
I love this part of the country. Along the way, I listened to Richard Rohr’s book “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.” Watch a YouTube with him here. It is a wonderful book about aging growing and what we can do with the second half of our lives on a spiritual level. This is a book about what we can come to understand with our aging, maturity and wisdom – as well as how we can come to terms with mortality and the meaning of our life. The unprecedented number of people in their 80’s and 90’s has opportunities for meaningful elderhood that few of their forebears enjoyed. The number will be even bigger as the huge wave of baby boomers gets older. What will we do with this time in our later years? Will we continue to enjoy retirement as a long vacation or as a chance to reconnect and engage with our community in meaningful ways? Each of us has a choice to make about this to the extent we are given this opportunity of what to do with our longevity.
While I was listening to Father Richard (he is a Franciscan priest), I thought about the popular notion of “the bucket list” or some to-do list of things that many people agree they ought to see or visit before they die – as if life experiences, unique and personal – are somehow easily boiled down into some generic list of what a worthwhile human experience is. . . . . ! Rohr’s chapter on the first half of life is about learning and practicing the rules, being a productive member of society and that sort of thing. Sadly, many people get stuck there and seeing that there are many others in their company – may think that this place is the only destination. Hence the “bucket list.” Who writes their own bucket list – or is it a bucket list because it is agreed upon by a group that it is meaningful? His reference to falling into the second half of life is a place where a person can be freed from the constraints – internal, external, community. A journey of free fall that is like a remembering of who we are, what we came here to be and to do.
This reminds me of the lyrics of a favorite Enya song – “Pilgrim” (watch a beautiful video of the Hubbell Deep Field photos with the song as audio here ):
one way leads to diamonds,
one way leads to gold,
another leads you only to everything you’re told….
oh pilgrim it’s a long way to find out who you are.
It is a long journey, but as Father Richard explains and reiterates, the second half is a beautiful journey of freedom which each of us must discover for ourselves. I would say it is a pilgrimage of the heart, to remember. So – where is that physical or emotional or spiritual place for “aging in place”? Is it in a multigenerational home, is it with the support of or under the care of others, or is it with the “independence” we fancy that we have enjoyed throughout our lives? That is up to each of us to decide – or not, depending on our own inclination.
Perhaps the whole journey of life is as a return from exile, the experience of exile – moving away from the known and its sense of belonging. Redemption is possible when the way toward home is found, through some place of light, through the illuminated darkness.
Could this aging in place provide the opportunity to move beyond one’s constructed self, the identity of who we have become in our accomplishing phase of the the first half of life? Might this resulting freedom allow one to consider the wholeness of or our sense of place in the world, to reassess our place in the community? What about your place in the universe, and in the struggle to wake up? More on this topic later……
©Barbara Cashman 2013 www.DenverElderLaw.org