I have always enjoyed reading fiction, sometimes because I identify with the characters, and sometimes because I learn something from the characters about ways of being that are different from what I’m used to, but could be beneficial to me.
I have been reading these wonderful “mysteries” that take place in England in the early to mid twentieth century. I don’t usually like English mysteries, but these are unlike any I’ve ever read, and I’m extremely sad that I just finished number ten, the last one published (up till now, anyway). The main character is an unmarried woman in her thirties, who calls herself a psychologist and investigator and has gone from being a servant in a wealthy household, to becoming a wealthy, educated, and independent woman. She has many interesting habits in her investigations, learned from her mentor, that help her to understand the people who become her clients, as well as the other people she encounters. I have been taking notes on these habits, feeling as though they are very wise, and beneficial to anyone who is interested in being empathetic and compassionate towards others.
But what I’m thinking about today, is the way she always “finishes” a case that she’s been working on. Some time after the case has been solved, she revisits the places and sometimes the people that were involved, experiencing each of them in the new light of knowing the resolution of the investigation. This allows her to move on to the next case with more space and freshness in her body and mind. It occurred to me that I have this year, or ten months, to do the same with my life here in California, so that when I move to NM next summer, I can truly start with that same space and freshness of spirit, knowing that I have finished here. It’s more than saying goodbye, it’s truly going back to and remembering all of the important places and experiences that have been meaningful to me here, and since I’ve lived here over a third of my life, that could be quite a few places and take some time. Obviously I will have to prioritize, but even that will be an interesting exercise. I am excited to start writing in my (handwritten) journal the lists of possible places to re-visit, as well as people. I know this will be a long process, and I have time, but it will definitely give me some closure to things that I have let stay in the back of my mind, taking up space and even emotion, things I don’t really need to carry with me across the country.
The other part of this last book in the series (so far), is that at the end she has decided to travel, for an unknown length of time, to some unknown places, and realizes that although there is a lot of scariness is not having a set plan, there is also a lot of openness and excitement, the possibilities are endless. I know I’m talking about the character as if she is real, but I’ve never read about a thought process that is so similar to mine and my partner’s. The self discovery that can happen with this kind of open agenda, and even more than that, the faith that it is the right thing to do regardless of other’s opinions, the political climate, or the possible outcomes, are all that is really important.
This spiritual, emotional, physical knowing of what we have to do, and then doing it, even if it feels like jumping off a cliff, is what my partner and I call being guided by the river. I guess you could say that we believe in the “river religion” except that in no way could it be called a religion. We believe that our lives are flowing as if they are rivers, and if we stay open and willing to go where they guide us, we will always be doing the right thing. We can choose to fight or try to change the flow of the river, and have definitely done so in the past — you know, doing something regardless of the little voice inside that’s telling you it’s not quite right, ignoring the millions of signs that tell you what to do and which way to go, etc. — and then we may get stuck in the eddies, or caught up on a rock, or find ourselves in a little whirlpool. But we can always find the flow of the river again by taking a minute to take stock, to feel our deepest feelings, to tentatively try swimming in a particular direction and watching and feeling for all the signals that will tell us if we are going the way we need to go. At 60, I am so much better at that than I used to be. It certainly doesn’t mean there is smooth sailing all the way, it doesn’t mean that “bad” things won’t happen, but it does mean that I will be able to cope more easily, emotionally, mentally and spiritually with whatever comes. And best of all, it means I can go forward with a kind of confidence that lets me leave many of my fears in the dust. (I wish I could leave them all there, but I am still such an imperfect person…)
I love reading the signs. My neighbor and I were talking about signs last week, realizing that some people think it is a crazy idea. But we both believe in them, and love to see them. When we bought our house in Trail’s End I thought I was dying. But we bought it anyway, knowing it was exactly the right thing to do. A few months later, when we were still waiting for the title, we heard that the title company was kaput, because our money had been stolen, and the owner of the company arrested for fraud. At the time, I wondered if that was a sign, but it turned out to be just a little rock in the road that cost us more money and some extra work. This summer however, it did feel like there were lots of positive signs: finding two different groups of people to play music with, making wonderful new friends and becoming closer with people we knew, my partner winning the e-book at the library raffle, having lots of rain that was desperately needed (I think we may have brought it with us…), having really good interactions with neighbors, having a 60th birthday that couldn’t have been more incredible, doing creative work almost constantly, well, you see, even the very small negative things that happened were part of making the experience of living there REAL, and didn’t detract at all.
So now that I absolutely believe that we’re jumping in the right direction, I continue to watch for signs that tell us how to go about this, as we have to make lots of difficult decisions about health insurance, what to do with the CA house, how to manage seeing our children and grandchild, and how to survive financially with tiny retirement paychecks that might or might not cover health insurance. It is like a treasure hunt, and I never know from day to day what I might find.
At this point, when I get nervous, all I have to do is remember that the river has never led me astray. Even when I got cancer, I know the ways I changed and what I learned about myself and how life works for me, made it all worthwhile. I still get nervous every time I have a light chain blood test to see where my myeloma is, because I am not ready to die anytime soon. But even for that, I trust the river to guide me to whatever is next. The best part of this is that I get to be a more peaceful and happy person than I’ve ever been in my life. Now that really makes it worthwhile, because I’ve been a pretty stressed worrier all of my life. I guess this is what the idea of God does for people, gives them confidence and faith that they’re doing the right thing for themselves and others. I think the fact that God is often seen as a human image really has not appealed to me. I do not deny that there are humans who are so in touch with their rivers (or whatever they believe) that they are enlightened and can understand things about themselves, others and the world that I couldn’t even begin to understand. And I value them. But I am happy to have a tiny little bit of understanding about myself, and my path, and learning to follow it, which ultimately leads me to understand the absolute importance of kindness and generosity and compassion in this world. That is more than enough for me.
(The books I referred to are the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear.)