Diminishment

mock-orange

 
Diminishment
Held my eyes in the mirror this morning
As she spoke her stark truth.
My body has declined.
There is no bringing it back.
Now Is the time of adaptation.

Yesterday, walking the Interurban Trail,
Bikers shouted “Seventy is the new 60. You can do it!”
Dropping me in a whir of wheels and wind
As they passed.
My mind wanders to the memory of another bike ride-
The rush of river rapids
A whiff of mock orange transporting me
To someplace beyond myself,
Hair awry in the wind and thirty-year-old muscles
Giddy With endurance
As they close in on mile thirty.
Grief and gratitude ride the memory with me
Calling me back to the visitor
In the mirror.

Today I live in that place beyond myself
With seventy two-year-old muscles
Wrapped around arthritic bones,
And the heavenly scent
Of mock orange to keep me company.

© Rita H Kowats 2-3-17

Photo Credit: http://www.nwplants.com/business/catalog/phi_lew.html

 

 

 

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Old People like Old Barns

rebeccas-barn

 

This poem emerges from a recent conversation with my dear friend Linda in which we commiserated and celebrated our entrance into the stage of The Velveteen Rabbit, scars and bald spots our glorious trophies. Especially the inside ones. Enjoy.

 

Old people like old barns
Lure light through weathered
Planks in sagging frames.
It spills in speckled streaks
Onto the foundations of their souls
Where young visitors can sprawl
And play at life.

© Rita h kowats 12-2-16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo credit: Rebecca Staebler http://www.hubbubshop.com

Making a Case for LEISURE

Leisure the word

Now that I am retired…

I have leisure to paint my nails to complement my cat’s fur as I pet him.  leisure nail paint on sherlock

I have leisure to solve jigsaw puzzles while contemplating the BBC Newshour.

leisure jigsaw puzzle

I have the leisure to read The Danish Girl  simultaneously flipping in and out of Saint Google to learn more about the real lives of these extraordinary women.

I have the leisure to stroll alongside Puget Sound shooting thought-provoking photos.

Leading to Nowhere for leisure post

 

I have the leisure to write for uninterrupted hours dipping into soul depth only to emerge in the welcome reality of holy mundanity.

I have the leisure to listen to the spaces between words instead of riding on their persistent melody.

I have the leisure to listen to the subtle whispers of Spirit missed while caught in the throes of THE BRAND.

I make a case for leisure.  I make a case for luxuriating in the leisure of 70.  It is not given to me to pretend that it is the new 60.  At last I can breathe. So I will.

Still Rock’n Out at the 55+: Maxine

sumomaxine

I have lived here at my 55+ apartment building for three years now. During this time I have been honored to develop a relationship of sorts with Maxine, who is almost ninety years old. A lifetime dancer, Maxine stands at least 5’8”. She carries one trekking pole as a balance aid (I am trying to introduce her to the benefits of two trekking poles!) and her mod clothes always complement her vivid orange hair. For years Maxine has taught line dancing at the local senior center; now she sits on the sidelines dictating instructions to one of her seven children who in turn demonstrates the steps to the class. Once I met her by the elevator and she was excited to tell me she had just gotten “such a deal on potatoes at Costco,” and would I like some? She invited me in and shared five stout bakers with me. We take care of each other at the Blakely. Another time Maxine rode the elevator with me and announced, “You seem like a really nice girl. Would you come for coffee at my apartment?” It was a delightful hour of storytelling evoked by each antique that graced her living room. My most poignant conversation with Maxine occurred the time I came upon her unexpectedly. A look of terror passed over her countenance. She apologized, saying that once she had been assaulted and since then surprise is an unwelcome experience. Today was different. I rode the elevator with Maxine and her oldest daughter, who must be at least seventy-five. Maxine seemed to function well on the surface, but I noticed much more disorientation than I have ever seen before. Her daughter’s demeanor hinted at the beginning of exasperation, and perhaps fear of what lies immediately around the corner. It scares me too. What is it like entering this stage of aging? What can we do to live in it with grace? I am only seventy, yet I have momentary glimpses of it. I like to tell myself these moments of disorientation stem from a physical condition, and they do. But… Living here reinforces what I have longed believed, that we grow old as we have lived all along. I think the way to do this is to live life as the mystics set it before us: let go, let be, live from our deepest being. I am working on letting go of the need to rant about the things that irritate me in a 55+ community. Ranting just gives the negative power over me, and instead of living life, I live the rant. Not pleasant for me or for those around me. The facility of animals to adapt to their environments inspires me. Someday I too will be disoriented; right now I learn how to take care of myself and simultaneously respect the place others are in. In this moment I type on a computer in the communal “office.” It is air-conditioned. My apartment is 90 degrees. It’s working out just fine, too! I may have met some “Chatty Kathys or Keiths” here, but not this time. I’m learning to imagine ahead of time what the effects of my choices might be, so that surprise doesn’t sabbotage me.  This leads to more instances of letting be and the possibility of living from my deepest self. I’m far from sainthood. I almost strangled my cat at 3:00 A.M. this morning when she decided it was play time. However, I think I’ve come up with a template for the spiritual practice of growing old. Good luck to you if you share my era, good luck to you if you have to deal with my era!

Elevator Interludes

Life in 55+ housing has no dull moments.  I’ve lived on the sixth floor of such a building for two years, and the adjustment has run the gamut from the sublime to the ridiculous, sometimes all on the same day!  The elevator provides a rich assortment of spiritual practices around patience and compassion with others and oneself.  For example, I’m learning to laugh at myself after I have walked halfway around a hallway in search of my apartment which is on another floor.  Hey.  If I’m having a lively chat with a neighbor who gets off on floor five, why not continue the conversation?  You would think that by now I would have memorized the paintings in front of the elevator on each floor, or at least, look at the floor number before I get off.  Then there’s moving days, when through no fault of their own, departing tenants hold up the elevator on their floor.  Patience.  Tenants on wheels slow things down.  Tenants standing in the open door talking or holding it for someone down the hall slow me down.  Several times a day I have to let go.  It’s ever so good for me;  however, my internal dialogue can become quite colorful at times.

We have a custom of putting out unwanted items by the elevator for anyone to pick up.  When my cat died I put out her little pink carrier and it was gone within ten minutes.  So, on Saturday someone on my floor put out an antique end table with three drawers which I thought could nicely replace the inadequate one I had.  I carried it to my apartment and rearranged everything.  Excited to re-gift the end table I replaced, I put it out by the elevator.  Finally, I settled down to read with all my accoutrements neatly organized nearby.  Alas, within the hour I had an allergic reaction.  The end table had mold in it.  Upon examination, I also discovered a dangling leg.  Another opportunity to learn patience.  I decided to try taking the high road.  I’ll retrieve my inadequate end table and take this one down to the recycling, I thought.  I went in search, and you guessed it, the table had already been snatched up.  My disappointment was eased by the knowledge that I helped out someone else, just as I thought I was being helped out.  The office opening at day’s start yesterday, found me there checking out a cart to take the broken and moldy table downstairs.  Outside my apartment, where the table sat, I met Mandy, the house cleaner.  She asked what I planned to do with the table.  I told her.  “Oh, she said, I’ll take it for my daughter’s room.  I’m a cabinet maker.  I can fix this easily.”  And she already had decorating plans for it.

There are days that I long for my spacious condo, sans elevator, but I wouldn’t miss these little opportunities to let go, for the world.  I’m convinced that we grow old the way we live.  Life in a 55+ is the playground of the sublime and the ridiculous.

Aging

"Into the Woods" by Vinoth Chandar

“Into the Woods” by Vinoth Chandar

At age 69 I have begun to listen to older friends as they cope with losing one friend after the other.  Someone said she can go to three funerals a week some months.  I’ve been trying to wrap my head around that kind of loss and how it must feel  After awhile one must just throw up one’s arms and shout, “Bring it on!  I’m all alone anyway!” I want to continue with tried and true spiritual practices that have sustained me in the past, and develop new ones to see me through this new stage of aging, which began today with news that my recently deceased sister’s friend has received a sobering diagnosis.  The best practice for me seems to hit it straight-on, put it out there where I can see it.  So here it is:

First family funerals-
Natural.
Expected. Sick and aging parents.
We can do this.
We make peace with
The emptiness left by November’s unleaving.*
Life goes on, they say.
And it does.

Then sibling death-
Unnatural.  Unexpected.
That shouldn’t happen,
But it does.

It doesn’t stop there.
Today I hear November winds howl
Around vulnerable friends
Who stand like dominoes
Waiting their turn.
I feel like the Ancient Mariner,
“Alone, alone, all, all alone, “
Wondering what curse I have called down.

How do we bear this Last unleaving?
Grace.
Our bare, black spirit -limbs
Are leaved round by brilliant
Grace sustaining.
No curse.
Blessing.

© rita h kowats

* I am indebted here to Gerard Manley Hopkins for the word, “Unleaving,” coined in his poem, “Spring and Fall.”

** “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Fourth Part

Glimpsing Joy

JOY

ME on joy

Buongiorno!

The essence of joy is detachment. Pure joy is an experience of ecstasy, in which we stand outside of ourselves. It is like the baby featured recently on YouTube. Every time his father tore a piece of paper, the baby erupted into peals of spontaneous gut-giggles(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RP4abiHdQpc. (I dare you to refrain from giggling.) True joy is standing outside of all ego-judgments, and entering into an experience feet first.

 Glimpse

Walking along the Puget Sound waterfront in 80 degree weather, I met a Vietnam Vet walking his white shih Tzu, “Pootie.” “Pootie is a service dog trained to create a peaceful environment for the vets he visits at the VA hospital. Time enjoyed with “Pootie” lowers blood pressure, and keeps the demons of PTSD at bay, at least during this sacred, liminal time. This little Shih Tzu seems to have the same effect on his owner. As we chatted there in the glorious sun, joy emanated from this vet and made its home in me.

Glimpse

A walk along Echo Lake began with my daily encounter with “Beautiful,” a magnificent Great Blue Heron. Escaping notice at first, I finally spotted her hiding among the cattails. “There you are!” I cheered. She stretched her long neck and turned her head sideways, the better to see me. I serenaded her with, “How are you today, Beautiful? It’s so delightful to see you again. Thank you for coming.” And she slowly plodded her way over to within ten feet of me. Watching. Listening. Honest.

I continued on to the lake’s end, and watched three groups of people fish. A man walked by me with an eight inch pink-speckled trout dangling from his thumb. His nearly toothless grin and tattered coveralls conjured images of Tom and Huck playing along the shores of Old Man River. I greeted the fisher with, “You caught one!” He smiled widely and announced, “Oh, I caught a few. You want this one?” I hesitated as a movie of me walking home and into the lobby of my apartment building with this fish dangling from my thumb, played out in my head. Tom caught my hesitation and in a mournful tone exclaimed, “You don’t like FISH?” I rushed to explain my dilemma, which he graciously understood. I wish I had accepted Tom’s gift. I could have mounted it on my wall and framed it with a plaque cautioning, “DON’T LOOK A GIFT FISH IN THE MOUTH.”

Glimpse

In 1982, two years after my sojourn in Berkeley, I moved from a small provincial town to Capitol Hill in Seattle. Finally, I could breathe again! Capitol Hill is home to many citizens of the kingdom of Out-of-the-Box. Last week, in 2013, I had returned for an appointment and joyously wasted time strolling down 15th Avenue. I was ecstatic to rediscover the Bagel Deli, which was established in 1980. Last year it was awarded the title, “Best Bagel in Seattle.” Still crazy, after all these years!” (Thank you, Paul Simon.)

Inside, delicious memories, not all culinary, wafted around the loft like ghosts looking for a hostess: stimulating conversationalists, friends always up for a good belly laugh, lox and bagels to die for. It had been a time in my prime, when my body and my mind still cooperated with me. I sat at a table beside a wall of windows thrown open to lure in the cool Puget Sound breeze on this warmish day. Before pouncing on my bagel, I “gave thanks for all that has been, and said yes to all that will be.” (Dag Hammarskjold)

Ciao!

Some people write gratitudes at each day’s closing. I savor these glimpses of joy as reminders of what God can do in me if I jump in feet first. Nourish us with your own glimpses of joy in the comment section, if you feel so moved.