From Mary Rose O'Reilley's
~ The Love Of Impermanent Things ~
Mary Rose O'Reilley is one of my favorite modern non-fiction writers. She wrote a book that I've read and reread and had my students and friends reading and it is, without a doubt, one of the best books I've ever read. It is The Barn at the End of the World: The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd. It is positively stunning. When I heard she had a new book out, some time back, I rushed to order it, but it sat here in the stacks of books around me and, things being what they've been, I haven't been able to concentrate well to read much of anything. I started, and didn't get very far because I knew that I wanted to give it my full attention when finally reading it. Well, I started reading it again last night, and, as I expected, I have been completely swept away by yet another book by this incredible author.
I sit with colored pencils in one hand loosely while I read because I am always underlining, highlighting, parenthesizing, (I am a horror to those people who cringe at the thought of so much as a faint pencil mark somewhere in a book.) because I don't want to forget a thing and there are so many quotes I want to remember. Not very far into the book I read a brief quote that I had underlined before. I felt it's import then, but it shook me to my core last night as I read it.
How should I live the life that I am?
How indeed? And I was tired and I had to keep rereading it before it would wholly sink in. "... the life that I am." I am a life. It felt like a Zen koan, a puzzle, a question to twist one's mind around and make them think. A koan is paradoxical, and something one can think about for days. This sentence is a koan for me.
How should I live... live... live...
... the life that I am... am... am...
And then it suddenly struck me. This is exactly what I've been writing about a lot lately. I am about to cross a threshold into a whole new life and I have been pondering, questioning, and meditating upon the first part of that question. "How should I live?"
I have always wanted to live a life of simplicity, a kind of Woman's Walden, but this is not so easy in present day society and, being rather hermetic, and more than a bit reclusive, I have created a whole world in which I live and work and rarely leave. Given those circumstances, and living with a dozen or so animals, books everywhere all over the cottage, and a truckload of fiber and spinning, weaving, knitting, and crochet equipment, not to mention vintage fabrics, and thousands of antique and vintage buttons and beads, and the odd collections of vintage things like enamelware, teapots, jugs, and flower pots, to name a few things, along with the African violets that grow everywhere, I can't exactly say that I live a simple life in terms of things, but I live a very simple, quiet life mostly alone if you don't count my animal companions and the wild birds at the feeders, not to mention the insects, lizards, toads, the occasional snake, furry creatures and more that live outside my doors. These are all parts of the life that I am, and I am just now figuring out how I want to live it.
I have been looking at houses for a couple of months now. I looked at a number of seaside cottages about 1/2 hour from here, but they were either falling down (if I could afford one that I liked which were few and far between...) or they were so ungodly expensive there was no way I could touch them. Instead I decided that I wanted to stay here in this little town that I said I never wanted to live in or stay in, but it has grown comfortable like an old pair of shoes, and I think the older ones gets the more the familiar feels more comfortable. I have been looking for a house that was a little older, had a lived in feeling and a bit of history. (Again, I can't afford the dreamy historic homes. We have the most wonderful downtown historic area on the river but the houses are simply grand and so far out of my price range they might as well be on the moon, or they are falling down and located in what one calls "bad neighborhoods.") I want a place that is both roomy and a cozy feeling which is kind of a contradiction in terms, but I have all these various and sundry needs. I am a realtor's nightmare, but my realtor, Susan, is simply grand and puts up with me I know not how.
With my budget not to mention my somewhat peculiar tastes in things, finding houses to look at at all is a bit of an undertaking, and out of several that we have looked at, until this last week, there was only one in my price range that I liked. But then... oh heavens to Betsy! ... then, just last week, believe it or not, we found a house with pretty well everything I wanted, IN my price range, with -- brace yourself -- a SPACE SHIP in the back yard. I kid you not. It is big enough to get in and play about, at the back of the property and just HUGE. Adult sized. It was built for grown up kids, and kind of cartoonish, and just FABULOUS. I went all gaga which I was able to do because no one was there but my realtor and I, and there are still a number of questionable things about the place, but living in a house that has a space ship out back is just exactly the kind of person that I am and how I want to live.
At the outset I told Susan that I wanted something odd, you know, the houses that look like a big shoe or a teapot, or at the very least a lighthouse or -- and this is so fabulous I just can't stand it -- a couple of artists turned an old fire station into their home/studio, living upstairs and having the studio downstairs. I simply can't believe it and practically drive off the road gawking at it every time I pass. Alas there aren't any shoe or teapot houses in these parts, the lighthouses are actually working lighthouses along the coast, and old firehouses aren't exactly a dime a dozen in these parts. I did hear about a little old school house for sale and went just all to pieces over that, but it turned out it was falling down and way out yonder in nowheresville which sounds romantic but isn't very practical for me. But a great big space ship out in the back yard might do just fine.
I am also an ordained minister but a rather peculiar one at that. My regular parishioners are mostly parrots and pugs, plus people who don't even know that they are amongst my congregation at all, not to mention the people who will never meet me but whom I pray for and with, listen to, write back and forth with, counsel, and mostly I live the life of the anchorite, alone, in the quiet peaceful space I have created so as to pray and meditate and offer what I have through my writing and art.
The life that I am seems to be the life of a very peculiar, reclusive woman-minister-animal lover and rescuer-writer-artist-and woman who likes houses with space ships in the back yard. It's a bit of a stretch to try to figure out how to live the life that I am with that laundry list of things I seem to require, and yet I know I'll do it and I am as excited as a little kid going to Disneyland at the very thought (...especially with the space ship in the back yard. Did I mention that?).
The life that I am seems to be one that few people have ever understood, and that used to bother me. I am a little too tender-hearted and thin skinned, or rather I used to be. As life goes along you have two choices. You can decide to give up on everything you know that you are, that you want, that you dream of just to make other people happy, or more comfortable, but then you find that won't really please them either and you'll have given up on everything that matters to you. I have chosen to live the life that I am, and I warmly welcome those who can accept me as I am, space ships, pugs, parrots and all, and to the rest, well, I wish them well on their journey, but they will not be part of mine. I do not say this in anger or with resentment. I simply say it as a 55 year old woman who has finally come to the point where I will no longer apologize every other minute for who I am, and simply revel in it. I am going to live the life that I am as fully as possible, with love, compassion, and tenderness, artfully, and with a house full of animals, and if the space ship house doesn't work out, the house I buy will have something odd about it or I won't buy it. So there.
How should I live the life that I am? Well, I haven't quite figured it all out yet, but it becomes clearer each day, and I thank God for the blessing of coming to the acceptance of all of who I am, and for allowing me the ability, in sharing my journey, to help others, where I can. I believe that is my mission, my path in this life.
And so now it is after 2 a.m. and the pug half way on my person is snoring so loudly that I can hardly think, so I'll end here, nudge him a bit so perhaps he'll settle in a little so I can concentrate to read, and I will dream about the life just ahead, and who I might be in the middle of it all.
You should ask yourself this question. It's quite confusing at the outset, but very satisfying and even surprising as you go along. I am learning more about myself each and every day, and I am ever so grateful for the gift of the questions answered, and those still posed. It's a long and winding road, this figuring out the life that I am not to mention how I should live it, but it's very worthwhile after all, and I'll keep delving deeper, an archaeologist at the greatest dig of my life -- discovering the bones of my very being.
Here's a shovel for you. Let's get to it.