The elderly man that used to wave from his garden as I drove by on my trips to town has been gone now for several years. His house is for sale for a second time and the grass has grown over his vegetable plot, a long rectangle of plowed earth that was lined with pink flowers in the summer.
I think of him whenever I pass his house and contemplate what poet David Whyte calls “the great disappearance,” how life seems endless and goes on day after day, until one day we find ourselves in a new place and the vanishing of the people we know, one after another, seems like a science fiction plot.
I’m impressed that the man worked in his garden till the end. I think about the words spoken by my friend Alex who died at home from cancer. “I’m dying, but I’m not dead yet,” she said the last time I saw her in a hospital bed in the middle of her living room. She faced her death inhabiting her body till her last breath, living life at the level she was able to and believing that her leaving would make room for someone else.
“As we grow older the internal conversation grows richer and richer, filled by absent friends, colleagues, and family members who gave a gift to you that you didn’t fully appreciate at the time, who are still living and experiencing life through your eyes and ears, and who are still speaking to you,” Whyte says.
I’m drawn to the pull of the internal conversation. I ponder the mysteries of life and death, knowing that an awareness of impermanence can make life feel all the more precious. But when I wake up more mornings than not with the looming knowledge that we are meant to lose everything we know and love, including our selves, I wonder if I’m not suffering from a low grade depression. Or is it a natural part of aging, or as Whyte calls it “apprenticing ourselves to our own great disappearance?”
The course study gets harder as we grow and the tests come more often. One day it seems unbelievable that people we love disappear, the next I’m in awe that we are here at all, and that, with all the ways there are to die, so many of us do make it to old age.