June was my birthday month. This year was significant, as I crossed the threshold into a new decade, my 70s.
The weeks leading up to the day found me preoccupied with the weight the number 70 carried. Already a long life, when compared to my Dad and my brother’s deaths at 67 and 62 respectively. Already a full life, as I cast back over the many twists and turns my life has taken, the situations and events that have shaped me into this white-haired, partly deaf woman. Crossing into 70, I feel death’s breath on my neck, though as far as I know I’m perfectly healthy. Nevertheless, the knowledge that death is approaching — real and mysterious — settles more deeply into my bones.
However, as the poet Derek Mahon writes, “…There will be dying, there will be dying, / but there is no need to go into that.” Lately, I’ve been feeling into the question, Now what? Gone are the years of ambition, striving for results and multi-tasking to an overfull schedule. Going is the need to be seen and heard, recognized and praised. When I sit with Now what, the word that surfaces repeatedly is “surrender”. Not resignation. Not apathy. Instead, surrender. Surrender into dropping expectations, into absorbing with all senses, into silence and rest, even (radical as it is, for me) surrender into pleasure. Surrender into relinquishing control, into bowing to life, rather than trying to manipulate it to fit my plan of how I want things to be. Which is never successful, anyway.
With surrender comes observing life as it unfolds, acting from a felt sense of what seems right, and above all, savouring what it means to feel alive. Lisel Mueller’s poem What is left to say has long been a favourite, echoing as it does chapters of my life. As I enter elderhood, its wisdom seems especially pertinent now.
What is left to say
The self steps out of the circle;
It stops wanting to be
the farmer, the wife and the child.
It stops trying to please
by learning everyone’s dialect,
it finds it can live, after all,
in a world of strangers.
It sends itself fewer flowers;
it stops preserving its tears in amber.
How splendidly arrogant it was
when it believed the gold-filled tombs
of language awaited its raids!
Now it frequents the junkyards
knowing all words are secondhand.
It has not chosen its poverty,
this new frugality.
It did not want to fall out of love
with itself. Young,
it celebrated itself
and richly sang itself,
seeing only itself
in the mirror of the world.
It cannot return: It assumes
its place in the universe of stars
that do not see it. Even the dead
no longer need it to be at peace.
Its function is to applaud.
~ Lisel Mueller