Lying fallow is a good time to notice the things around us that are coming to the end of their natural cycles (everything from patterns of behavior to leggy houseplants to the elastic in our underwear). Other seasons are so filled with activity – both inner and outer – that the quiet events or tired possessions or forgotten cheese dip slip by mostly under the radar screen until the underwear starts cooperating with gravity on its own or the science experiment in the back of the fridge starts walking around.
Which makes events in my own family of origin particularly apt and emotionally vivid. My father is preparing to move from the rental house he has lived in for four decades to an apartment in a retirement community which overlooks conservation woods on one side and a beautiful meadow on the other. I never lived in the house he will be leaving, but even given that it was never the return address on my envelopes, it is the place from which I married the first time, and the place I wept almost inconsolably when that marriage ended a decade later. It was the setting for my mother’s last breath and for my daughter’s baptism (my mother’s last party)…so I can only imagine how many more complex and tender memories have these rooms as the backdrop for him.
However, the reality is that the house is no longer a good companion. Dad has been patching what he can as time has passed, but everything is over-tired (from rugs to paint to cabinets) and the layout is awkward. The rooms are small and cramped rather than spacious and flexible and some aspects are actually dangerous because it was built at a time when safety considerations were not as important as we consider them now. In truth, he might have benefitted from making this move a decade or more ago, but inertia is what it is and it was easier to live with the deterioration than to embrace the challenges of sorting through a half century of memories of a marriage, three kids, wide-ranging travel, vocations and avocations. How many of us, after all, fling ourselves with unreserved abandon into such turmoil and emotional and spiritual loss?
Maybe that is why Samhain with its patient inward reflection only occupies one-quarter of the whole year. Maybe our wise sister Time understands that we are not best suited, we humans, for too many fallow months in which to think about and attend to what is nearing its natural end or is already gone – it requires too much courage and daring and engaged grief. There are losses in life that take longer than a quarter-year, to be sure, but they usually come to us quite outside our control. Committing ourselves in a premeditated manner to focusing in this way takes a different kind of heart- and mind-set.
During a particularly fraught moment recently, as my father was struggling with what I would imagine is an almost over-whelming sense of loss, I heard myself saying, “You have got to show me how to do this…how to do this with grace. I will be facing this, too, and I need to know how to be here, all the way here in this part of life. Someday Philippa will be standing where I am now, helping me make these choices. I need you to show me how to make them.”
And, although my father is 86-plus, I wasn’t talking about dying because I don’t see this as dying. Staying right where he is while everything steadily winds down into ‘stop’ is dying. I was asking him to show me how to live at the edge, how to live my elder years intentionally, how to live into the loss and lean forward into the new life that is on the other side. I was asking him to show me how to continue to have the courage to risk new perspectives, new friendships, new ideas, new experiences, a new view (woods and meadow rather than suburban street) when I may be feeling tired and sore in soul and heart, and would prefer to just curl up and let the world go by.
So, as my father prepares to sort tangible items and let go of many possessions that no longer serve his life, I am trying to find the spiritual strength to turn my sights on the less tangible: the behaviors, ideas, and perspectives which no longer serve my life. As it turns out, some of those are connected to the family memories that weave us together in ways that are long since outworn. I am trying to have the courage to bring old roles and perceived expectations into focus and to ask whether they are long overdue for a decent burial.
Until my father lets go of the old house, he cannot turn his energy toward the new space, new friends, and new life. In the same way, until I let go of the layer upon layer of habits and goals and self-judgments, and the tasks I take on because “someone has to do them”, I have no space in which to plant and nurture the call that is uniquely mine.
It has the potential to be a fruitful Samhain…especially if I can resist taking on all the possessions my father is discarding!
Text © 2014, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos © 2014, Immram Chara, LLC
Note: The photo of the Cloisters is available as cards or prints from my Etsy shop during Samhain.