Eckhart Tolle is one of my favorite modern-day mystics. In his book A New Earth Tolle talks about the duality of life. There’s night and day, up and down, happy and sad, tall and short. Duality is the nature of the physical world we live in. It is a world of opposites, of contrasts.
So it follows that there is life and death. Tolle teaches that life is all about expansion, and death, contraction. We only have to look at nature and its seasons to fully understand this truth. Young, healthy buds blossom into firm, fragrant fullness. Come fall, and leaves detach from the trees, wither and die.
It is the same with us. Babies hold the promise of new life whereas the elderly in their twilight years represent maturity and, eventually, decline.
I’ve been fortunate to witness this close-up because I straddle a uniquely interesting spectrum. I have a part-time babysitting job and a part-time gig at a retirement community. Add the fact that I volunteer in hospice and you get the picture.
I’ve been watching Grace since she was two months old. Today is her first birthday. In the numerous afternoons we’ve spent with each other, I’ve had a front-row seat to many of her milestones: turning over, sitting up, crawling, standing, and now morphing into a wobbly toddler. She does more, and is more every new day. The fullness of who she is begins to slowly come into bloom–and her world gets bigger and bigger. Her potential is expansive, wide, limitless as the sky.
This is my fifth year at the retirement community. I see how many of the seniors I’ve known since 2009 are fading away, their world contracting every day. From life in a suburban home surrounded by family and friends, they have moved to a community-type of living. They are now in touch with just a handful of people from their former lives. Their vision is poorer, they have reverse-graduated from canes to walkers and wheelchairs.
In one part of my day, I change my baby girl’s diaper and enthusiastically watch her early attempts to toddle. In the other, I mourn the loss of independence in my senior friends who regress to Depends, and a walker on which they hobble around.
I spoon pureed food into Grace’s mouth, and I watch a caregiver do the same for a senior who’s unable to feed herself anymore.
And yet, this is nothing but the circle of life, the natural course of things being born and things beginning to die.
The idea is to embrace both, for both bring unique gifts. Grace is a clean, empty slate on which she will script her own life. The elderly are a rich treasure-house of wisdom and life experience. Both have their place. But somehow we celebrate the newness of life and turn away from reminders of aging–no matter that we’re all headed in the same direction.
It’s a good idea to pose the question to yourself at some point: How do I want to grow old? Am I going to fight against it or flow into it with grace and ease? For if there’s one thing I know for sure, it is this: It is in living well that we die well. By “living well”, I don’t mean to reference the size of bank accounts or cars. I mean letting go of behaviors that don’t serve our growth and cultivating a perspective that is more reflective than refracted.
Eight months or eighty years old, it matters not. What matters is the choices we make as our past grows longer than our future.
Click here for a copy of my book “Understanding Death: 10 Ways to Inner Peace for the Grieving.”