The Narrowing

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 The summoning of Courage is the most dangerous of spells. For you cannot summon Courage to do one thing. You must summon Courage to do all things.”

As I turn 65, I am increasingly aware of a Narrowing in my life, the sense that the parameters, the boundaries, have closed in, and will continue to do so. My life, which had been a pyramid, has become a pillar. I am the atlas alone atop the stone, bearing the weight of the decisions that have placed me here

It makes sense in a way. The narrowing may have started soon after the most notable widening of my life. In 1993, I moved to Minneapolis. My wife and I had started our marriage in Washington DC, which was home to me. But she hated the traffic and her job and possibly me. So we decided to move to Minneapolis, her home of many years. I had hoped the move might rescue the marriage, but it didn’t. It did open my eyes in other ways, though, as moving someplace new can do. And Minneapolis, despite or because of the grand disruption of my life and plans, Minneapolis with its lakes and arts and smiling people, opened my creative heart, and the city became a muse.

My mind, which had always been pretty open, waited for its own muse, and it was not long in coming. In 1997, after the marriage had ended in the mutual recognition that we had engaged in hopes unfounded in reality or personality, I took a solo car trip across country, a transcendental journey described elsewhere. This was I think the widest moment of my life, where any road seemed open to me, reaching its apex on a highway on the plains of South Dakota, as the limits of the world fell away, the road went on forever, and the moment was defined by freedom.

But as I discovered on that trip, in choosing one road, others are let go. In the year or two that followed, I chose two roads. I chose to be a writer, and I chose to take care of family.

I see now (though I did not completely at the time) that in making those choices I let others go. Marriage or any kind of romantic partnership was not included. Deep friendships in essence became infrequent companions in practice. No one asked me to make these choices. I made them, and I don’t question the choices now, because they seemed best to me then, and what good would it do anyway? Focus and necessity became my principles, though perhaps they were only a cover. Perhaps the Narrowing had already begun.

My choices came with a cost, and that cost has become the Narrowing. My life is circumscribed into smaller and smaller limits. A trip to the store or Starbucks is my adventure for the day. I dream of travel, but the effort and stress and uncertainty seem beyond my powers. I don’t drive at night, or on the highway, or to places I don’t know. I have lived in this apartment for nearly twenty years, not because I like it (though for the most part I do), but because the thought of uprooting my life at this age, and from within this solitude, is daunting.

I watched this Narrowing towards the end of my parents life. Once world travelers, wonderful friends, wide readers, their world became chair and bed, television and tray, doctor and hospital. I live in a retirement community and I see daily that my life is not the only one Narrowed. Many others around me have been, by grief, by isolation, by illness, by money, by age itself.

The Narrowing in my case is based less on capacity than on fear. I see this. But so far I have not been able to work past it. As an intelligent person, I feel that I should be able to. I should be able to solve this problem. And sometimes I feel that I am on the brink. I am not sure of what–a widening, reformation, a renaissance? So far the brink is as far as I have reached.

Yet other times, as I sit in my chair and listen to music or read or write, I have a vision I can only dimly apprehend, like the Xanadu of Coleridge (without the opium), a vague sense that the Narrowing is in its own way a transition to be embraced.

As the pyramid narrows into the pillar, the atlas atop climbs higher. The base is more unsteady, and toppling is a twist away. But the scene is expansive. We see farther, and further. Beyond ourselves. And when the clouds dissipate, the view will be transcendent.

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The Calm Before the Storm

 

It’s a quiet night.

I look out the window and see only darkness.

The outdoor Christmas lights have been shut.

The stillness is eerie.

 

Not a sight of the storm yet.

No wind, no showers, just darkness and silence.

It seems like a calm night.

But my radar is up.

 

My sleep tonight will be on guard.

Awaiting the sudden surge to arrive.

A powerful storm arrives before Christmas.

Fingers crossed, Christmas won’t be lost.

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That black hole of love

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A gut in endless summersault, a head in spin ... an attack is now. It’s personal. It’s senseless. Humans can be senseless, actions and words can be careless and pointless, even if they come from a place of passion. Whether that’s misguided or not, whether I understand or not, is irrelevant.

Then from nowhere in this tumult that rages as a wild sea, mother instinct kicks in and big sister armour spikes out. The loyal friend shell hardens, ready for any skirmish that may come. Passion heats as a cauldron of boiling oil and the fierceness of the King of the Jungle emerges.

Yet underneath the layers of shields and barbs of thousands, a stomach still wrenches in subterranean caverns, over craggy mountains jagged that scrape any soul bare, through bogs of black and bracken that render all motion, motionless ... those children, leave those children alone!

And suddenly, physical reactions to instincts that aren’t seen give way to a heart that needs no armour, a heart that is the core of existence. A heart knows the depths of love of family and friends where limits are non-existent. A heart knows that in the slightest breath of a whistle call, those hearts will come together to become a black hole of love with its own life force. It’s the black hole of love of the universal family where distance is no barrier and passion is its own entity that runs deep through a complex stratal network that can’t be unravelled.

It’s obvious as we stand to farewell one of our own, that we are who we are, in numbers that double and triple, as beings that reverberate beyond this space. 

And in that moment, the first spike of armour retracts, the shell begins to soften. Fear starts to dissipate into that black hole of love of the universal family, a love that in times of farewell shines from crevices normally submerged. There’s no place for fear when a family unites in invisible armour. Our children are fine. Our armour together is invincible. 

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The Grit Under The Shell

As it's October, Breast Cancer Awareness month, I'm revisiting a post which first appeared on pilgrimrose.com two years ago. I hope it will give courage to any reader going through a similar experience just now. 

 

The turn of events this summer has caused me to reflect on the nature of fear and how it distorts perspective. The chimera takes on a palpable form, prompting actions that aren't contained in an imagined world, but have negative consequences, even fatal consequences, in the human arena when released into the ether. What is war but fear of another's capability to destroy us, or to sequester those resources we deem essential to wealth and happiness?

Fear is the first and last enemy.

Behind every fear lurks the shadow of death. Death is many things and 'death' as transition from the mortal state may be the least of them. Death is what happens when we can no longer see those we love. But death assumes other guises, always vanishing from the corner of our vision whilst remaining unnervingly present in the wings. Fear of losing power, possession and control over circumstances, when a desired and seemingly philanthropic end justifies dubious and destructive means, isn't that the real death?

On November 1 (All Saints Day) I'll be undergoing surgery for breast cancer. Yes, it's the Big C word, but I'm lucky. It's not far advanced and is not the most dangerous form. But there are complications as regards the actual site. It's just possible that it wouldn't have given any trouble. I had no symptoms, so no inkling that anything was wrong. It was picked up by a routine check which is ironic because I feel healthier than for years. Since then, a series of scans and biopsies seems to indicate that, so far, it hasn't spread. I'm hoping and praying that lab tests after surgery will confirm that. Chemo and radiotherapy are likely to be on the agenda but need a careful 'balance of risks' assessment for those approaching the 'season of mists and mellow fruitfulness'. I'm not at all sure I'll opt for routine treatments. There's no right or wrong. There are choices.

As a vegetarian, almost a vegan, dietary strategy has needed only a little tweaking. It's been interesting how I've experienced cravings for those ingredients which will best fight off the disease (this, before I knew why!) Honey, lemon, cayenne*, pak choi, parsley, turmeric, green green leaves, apricots, almonds, brazils, black pepper, olives, berries, ginger, green tea, black tea, red and black grapes, Mediterranean herbs...organic foods, and goats' cheese which hides no harmful bovine growth hormone. These things not only strengthen the immune system, but some contain specific substances that actively target cancer cells and the way oestrogen acts upon them. There's a lot of academic research out there about natural aromatase inhibitors which has excited and intrigued biochemists. Dramatic results have been obtained on some quite advanced cancers. I guess it won't be long before pharmaceutical companies are patenting our hedgerows and vegetable patches as Monsanto has done with broccoli! This, aside from what can be achieved through professional homoeopathic treatment for individual constitution.

But I'd be lying if I pretended this blow hasn't been a rollercoaster, especially in the early stages. We have to remember, though,that nothing is a guarantee of life or death. We naturally look for securities, but to expect a settled life on this fluctuating planet is to be prepared to live with illusion. The only thing to do is to get on with living and look over this hurdle into the wide blue yonder. I can't do as some are able to do, deny the diagnosis – though, strangely, there is evidence that it may work - but I can, through the strengthening grace of God, deny it's power to instill fear and to prejudice the future.

I am not a victim. I am not a statistic. Statistics may illustrate broad trends. What is factored in, what is left out, who construes the results, all call for penetrating analysis. I am, quite simply, in the hands of God and grateful beyond words for the kind thoughts and prayers of friends, especially as family is small. Prayer keeps us afloat and prevents us from being pulled down into the undertow, no matter that the circumstances themselves may appear unaltered.

Two things I've learnt from the past. One, that some of the most joyful and enriching experiences arrive in the midst of trauma and crisis – how is that possible? Two, that there needs to be irritating grit under the shell for the oyster to weep its precious tears of pearl.

If you happen to be facing the enemy just now, I hope that some of this, and the quotes that follow, will encourage you.

God bless!


The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek. Joseph Campbell


All is well, tho' faith and form/ Be sunder'd in the night of fear. Alfred Lord Tennyson


When we fear things I think that we wish for them... every fear hides a wish. David Mamet


Fear is the parent of cruelty. James Anthony Froude


No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear. Edmund Burke


I will show you fear in a handful of dust. T S Eliot


Fear has many eyes and can see things underground. Miguel de Cervantes


Oh, we can populate the dark with horrors, even we who think ourselves informed and sure, believing nothing we cannot measure or weigh. I know beyond all doubt that the dark things crowding in on me either did not exist or were not dangerous to me, and still I was afraid. John Steinbeck


The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. Nelson Mandela


That's all it takes, one drop of fear to curdle love into hate. James M Cain


A man that flies from his fear may find that he has only taken a short cut to meet it. J R R Tolkien


Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

 

*My blog about cayenne

Copyright

© © Rosy Cole 2014 & 2012

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