Monday, December 1, 2008
The view from The Peaks
I just spent the evening with Patricia Bradley, 87 years old and a new resident of The Peaks, a retirement center in Flagstaff, AZ. Patricia and her daughter came to a "gratitude circle" I hosted before Thanksgiving. A "gratitude circle" is a small group that meets to explore the cultivation of gratitude in our lives (see www.gratefulness.org), and Patricia floored me by saying this that night:
"I've explored a lot of religions in my life, and I know one thing for sure now. There is only one true religion, and that's the religion of love."
After the gratitude circle, I knew I wanted to get to know this person, who had been so honest about herself and how hard it was to know how to be at this time in her life: without her home, without her beloved husband of more than 60 years, without the clear mind she had once had, without independence, without the sense of meaning we find in our work and how we give to others. I was moved by her, by her spirituality, and by her clear expression of a deep question about how to find grace in the midst of old age and all its difficulties.
So I visited her tonight, in her little room with a single bed, like the cell of a nun: a few books from what were once walls full of books, a photo of an Indian saint dressed in orange on her night-stand. Her white hair is neatly waved, and she is well dressed and sprightly, somehow too alive to be in this place of walkers and oxygen tanks. She tells me again that the big question in her life now is how to be, here, in this place, at this age. When she was younger, she was a healer, teaching and working with a healing system called "Creative Healing", along with husband, going all over the world. Before that she and her husband were in the Peace Corps. This is a person who knows about service and about leading a spiritual life, but what kind of service to others is possible as you sit in your little room at the retirement center, trying to remember what once came so easily to you? What kind of spiritual life is possible?
These are not glib questions; these are koans - deep, difficult, knotty life questions that only she can answer. It is humbling and beautiful to be in the presence of someone who is asking those questions. Sacred questions.
And so we sat in her little room, our eyes occasionally filling up with tears. The great mystery of being human, alive and well in the heart of this person sitting across from me, and in my own heart. No answers.