April 28, 2010

"...and what did you make of your life?"

It's April 28, my birthday. I'm 70. Seventy years ago today, my mother had already been in the hospital for two weeks suffering from exhaustion. In those days, medicine had a different attitude. A little after one o'clock in the morning she had one spontaneous labor pain, and I was born before they could get her to the delivery room. This sudden appearance saved her from the hard work of labor and from any further exhaustion. As was the practice following birth, she stayed in the hospital for another five days.

I wonder sometimes if that burst into life shaped how I am, or was it because I was already that way - sometimes impromptu, vigorous, direct, frank (my father's name) - that I pushed through so rapidly. The old chicken or the egg thing. Asking too many questions for my own good. Now at 70, there is looking back. It does feel like a bigger gate than 50 or 60. It feels like there's a weight of life behind me, a history that I can't quite comprehend because it's too much and too complex to hold, to remember, or imagine. Where have I been? What have I done?

The first bird this morning sang before 5 a.m. I woke wondering if the moon were still out. Last night on the way to sleep it was brilliant and tonight it will be full. It seemed auspicious. We'll celebrate Buddha's birthday tonight along with my own and the Full Moon. But, it remains to be seen whether the light of the moon will reach through the dark clouds.

So, I got up and fixed a coffee and went back to my room which as fung shui goes, is the room where the angels reside. A good sleeping place. I spent time writing before Zazen and fell into life questions. The big one that named the Stroud lecture, "...and what did you make of your life?" was at the top of the list. I thought about Zen practice and purpose, about the seriousness of life and the frivolity, lightheartedness and gravity, about life as an experiment, life as meaning, intention, fate, the body, the mind, the spirit. "What did you make of your life?"

How am I living my life? Am I caught by irrelevant matters? Who is standing in my shoes? Can I wholeheartedly take up the tasks I've been given?...the ones that I, myself, invented? Can I begin again for the first time? What endures? Have I the courage to live my life completely? Have I the courage not to fear death? What is there yet to do? Can I stand with who I am and who I've become? Is what I ask of myself too rigid? Can I continue to go to the zendo and sit with my questions? Can I allow the questions to continue? Life is questions and should be questions. This does not mean discontentedness. Cows are contented. Who could be contented in today's world with such suffering and turmoil. How can I turn that concern for suffering to good purpose?

Such roiling at 70! Mind you, I am not unhappy. I love life and love that I have the privilege of having gotten to this age. Lord knows I danced in dangerous pathways many times. When I think of all I've been given I'm overwhelmed by the grace and abundance.

This morning my grandchildren telephoned from Zurich. Esther, nearly 8, spoke first. I asked did she know how old I am? Yes, she said, 70. That's pretty old, I said. Oh, not so very old, she said. Ah, sweet child, sweet thought. Then Julian, nearly 10, came on the line. Happy Birthday he said. Do you know how old I am? Yes, he said, 70. That's pretty old, huh? Yes, he said, compared to my age you're very, very old. Well, I said, that's not what Esther said. Oh, he answered, she was just trying to be nice. !!!

When Julian is my age, I'll be 130. Who knows, I told my daughter when she came on the line, that science may find a way to a longevity that we can't imagine, which is all well and good so long as we don't have to live with 130 year old skin. She reminded me that the older Swiss people hang out at the lake and just let their skin be as old as they are. They bake in the sun and get deep tans and they look carefree. She says, Mom, you need to lie out in the sun and get a little sun on you. Yeah, I say as I look out at the pouring rain, yeah I'll be sure to do that, even when I'm 130.

It's just today. Another day. I've done this date 70 times. There are 6.5 billion people in the world which means that along with me, 17,808,219 other people are also celebrating this birthday. Not bad company. Happy Birthday all you 17,808,219 people all over the globe. May the year go well.