Courage on the Rocks
Dunya Dianne McPherson
Shay, my niece’s 36-year-old fiancé, reached down from the rocky incline above me. I was stuck, afraid to move. “Grab my wrist,” he said calmly, cheerfully. “Put your foot there.” I saw where. I grabbed and stepped and he hauled me up. My legs, which were not strong enough on their own after surgical rebuilds, suddenly had a memory of their former mountain goat selves bounding up similar inclines. Up we went, step by step. My legs struggled but slid into play. A rhythm, a flow. Shay’s abundant strength poured through his arm into mine. It ignited my determination to not give up, not slough off. No. Reach. Try. He imparted physical courage and this reawakened the fiery field of courage in which I have lived my entire previous life.
It is part of who I have known myself to be. Hip replacement surgery had tamped this down. Surgery is traumatic, even though we are asleep when it happens. The body, however, remembers. I found myself wandering around with some crucial sense of self missing. Post-surgery, being methodical and reasonable has been a choice, but on a subtle plane—where we don’t consciously choose—I didn’t trust myself. I hesitated instead of putting my foot firmly down. I cowered in solitude where I didn’t have to fight, or be seen. I had stopped letting the blood of gravity and the breath of space surge in me.
In the struggle up those rocks, a great medicine occurred. A person helped me and everything except the steps, the tumbling slippery gravel, the clasped wrists disappeared. I was awkward, perhaps even pathetic, but I didn’t care. I got to the top. New warmth flowed through me. I came back into my courage. Since that day, I’ve stepped up my training. I’m methodical and patient. And courageous.
Aging gracefully is not my lot. I don’t have time and energy for it. To age gracefully connotes the appearance of being untouched by the process of living—code speak for looking young, unravaged by living, not creased by pain or soured by disappointment. Appearing to have escaped decline and unsightliness may comfort others. They think, “Ah, age. It’s no big deal.” Really? I don’t think so. There’s death, the game changer, coming down the pike, and there’s breaking and mending and the medical gauntlet. There is also this strange, darkly potent grief of knowing you have only one quarter or so of your allotment left.
Personally, I need my energy to scramble up the rock face. I need my energy to recover my equilibrium after having my thigh bones scooped out and metal stitched in. Aged gracefulness, like youthful prettiness, distracts from living and from feeling one’s way. Living is just as vibrant and just as painful as it ever has been, though perhaps different. The timbre. The quality. The touch between this and that. We continue to search and learn and strive until the last breath.
I will admit, however, when a dark potent grief visits I can no longer see anything else…
Yesterday, this happened…
The fog came in thick waves.
The trees were still. The bunny trundled into the woods. The grasses were still.
I felt abandoned by ‘society’, that is neighbors and friends who are supposed to distract me—in my mind that is their role—from existential grief. I was suddenly flooded with the sense that I am three quarters through my time. Not so much that I am frail and all that. I find that sort of loss uncompelling since I cannot feel my young, strong self and so am not plagued by comparison. No, the feeling was that I have only a measure of time remaining—the way one sees that the once-full tea tin has only a quarter pound of tea left. This dark wave separated me from the late after noon beauty. I wept.
I spoke later with my friend Bill. He told me his moment of impact wasn’t grief. When I asked how he felt, he struggled unsuccessfully to characterize the emotion.
The rift in one’s own space-time continuum is confounding. Was mine grief? Partly. I think I cried because my confusion was so utter and so deep, it jumped up and cut open my skull.
Today, I watch the dun-colored bunny, creature of compassion. Fog quells the fever of my realization. Ravenrock is a place of peace where truth erupts. Such a sword is solitude. It slices and I bleed. After, purged of pent up unseemliness, my soul unbinds. From my perch in the morning chair, a day sits before me unsculpted, fog covering over all but close steps, close minutes. The hand pump in the counter makes a ‘tuck’ sound, digesting water and air after the morning sluicing. My pen scratches. Silence.
When I was young I was externally beautiful but numb. Now, though I’m riddled with scars, I can feel. In my practice, lines of motion arc through me, sculpting beautiful forms in my flesh and I feel this beauty. Unearthly hoodoos. With age, we know more but knowing more doesn’t mean we can solve what is unsolvable. It certainly doesn’t mean being able to control what is uncontrollable. In age, we lose control. The time is gone. Just really gone…And losing control, or letting go of the impulse to control, is the central work of spiritual path. It is the out breath to every in breath.
As the saying goes, Let That Shit Go.
I am delighted that you are with me and appreciate your sharing these writings friends. Thank you!
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