“Today, at age 76 — as I weather the autumn of my own life — I find nature a trustworthy guide. It’s easy to fixate on everything that goes to ground as time goes by: the disintegration of a relationship, the disappearance of good work well-done, the diminishment of a sense of purpose and meaning. But, as I’ve come to understand that life “composts” and “seeds” us as autumn does the earth, I’ve seen how possibility gets planted in us even in the most difficult of times. (Parker Palmer, Autumn: The Season of Paradox, published in On Being, November 9, 2019)
I‘ve been sitting in “my chair” quite often lately musing on how to describe how my world is changing. I’ve decided that it is getting smaller. (Parker Palmer might call it “diminished.”) Smaller means less involvement, less travel, less excitement, less input, connection. Like Palmer, I’ve also decided that a smaller and diminished life is okay.
For a while I worried about becoming smaller. Many of my friends and family members who are my age are still taking on new, sometimes complicated responsibilities, travel even more widely, are heavily involved in church or social justice activities while I slowly but surely have let much of that go. I suspect my strongly introverted nature is encouraging me down this road, but I am sure that my friends would urge me to “stay active.” I would tell them that I am very active – in my mind and soul.
During my entire professional life (which lasted until I was 74), I was a planner, an organizer, an entrepreneurial dreamer of possibilities. (In fact, many of my dreams during sleep are still are about organizing, teaching, creating new things.) But now I have accepted ceding the planning and creating and building to others.
One reason my world is smaller is that I am my husband’s caregiver; this drains my energy and emotional strength. Another reason is that my own health now limits my activity. But health issues are not, I’ve discovered, the major reason that my world is shrinking. I have always been more of an observer than a participant; now I can accept that part of myself and even relish it. Parker Palmer has helped me understand that even in “diminishment,” possibility is planted. I don’t mourn the losses. I focus, instead, on the calling: to read more, muse more, sit quietly more, listen and observe more, write more, appreciate more – and let go more.
Henri Nouwen writes extensively about loss and how we choose to deal with it. He says,
[E]very time there are losses there are choices to be made. You choose to live your losses as passages to anger, blame, hatred, depression, and resentment, or you choose to let these losses be passages to something new, something wider, and deeper. The question is not how to avoid loss and make it not happen, but how to choose it as a passage, as an exodus to greater life and freedom” (Henri Nouwen, You are the Beloved.)
My smaller life, I am finding, is a passage, “an exodus to greater life and freedom.”