Ah, Venice! It looks as though my sabbatical may not work out the way I hoped it would, the way I had planned it for 2008. Sigh. Oh, I could still go, I suppose; but I've been reading the application for Lilly Endowment grants for clergy sabbaticals, and I'm not sure I could pull something like that together in two weeks (the deadline is May 15). The application is a major undertaking, and must be a collaboration between my parish and me. My hope of living and doing research in Italy for 2-3 months will most certainly require some sort of financial assistance. I may have to wait until 2009. That doesn't completely preclude any travel at all to Italy in 2008, but it won't be quite the extended stay that I had hoped for. So that hope is receding. Not disappearing, definitely; but my time line just extended further into the future, which makes me sad.
Further into the future is something that makes me uncomfortable this year in particular. This June I will be 55. My father died when he was 55. The women in my family are fairly long-lived: my maternal grandmother was 89 when she died, and my mother was 86 (for one day). My brothers all got very nervous as they turned 55, thinking about Daddy's untimely, early death; but I thought I dodged that bullet, being a girl. My brothers all outlived my father, though my youngest brother (12 years older than me, to whom I am closely genetically matched) died when he was 59. Mortality. Scary. All the reading I did about "fear of death" seemed fairly academic and unlikely when I was reading it in my 20s; now it seems much less outlandish. I only realize as I write this, that I've got the same bug that my brothers had. No wonder I've been casting about desperately, trying to think of something fabulous to do for my 55th birthday; I'm halfway afraid I won't have another. I have some chronic problems with my kidneys (not serious, my urologist insists), and my father and brother both died of renal cell carcinoma.
It's not that I'm truly afraid of death. I have only very small, niggling doubts about the life to come. I do believe life is changed, but continues at our physical death. I believe we get to be reunited with loved ones that we knew in this lifetime -- I will see my daughter again, and my parents, and my beloved brothers. And I believe that our spiritual journey continues, regardless of what the Church has tried to tell us about the importance of getting right with God before we die. I think we continue to grow and to learn and develop in the life to come. I might even get to sit down and have that talk with Jesus that I hope for -- and I will be asking him for a few explanations (and vice-versa, I'm afraid)! I'm not thrilled with the concept of dying -- who is? I hope, as I think we all do, for something quick, easy, and painless, rather than some protracted, agonizing end. My choices would be to go suddenly, "with my boots on," running, perhaps, or working in my garden, or to simply live a long, vital life and go to sleep one night, never to awaken in this world again.
So death itself -- no problem. Dying -- some trepidation about pain and disability. But mostly, it's the loss of this life I have now. There's not enough time, I fear, to do all that I want to do. I haven't yet written the book that I know lies within me somewhere. I haven't learned to do the art that I see in my head, and in the books I devour. I haven't lived in Italy. I haven't found a lasting romantic love. I haven't figured out what's wrong with me! I'm just learning how to live. I'm just learning the savory-sweet pleasure of being in the moment, of refusing to allow myself to be always running off to or obsessing about the next thing, or the previous thing, but rather to just sit in the sun and listen to the birds sing a song that pierces my heart. I'm still perfecting my veggie garden. I haven't yet lost the 70 pounds I'd like to shed. I've not seen nearly enough springtimes. And it scares me to death to think that I might not live long enough to really relish every single thing, every single dream.
A good thing about this realization of finitude, is that sometimes I really can be completely in the moment, and the delicious joy I feel is almost shameful. It's a visceral, deep-down "YES!" that I've only previously felt during the very best sex -- something like when I gave that last strong push as I gave birth. It's an amazing feeling, when it comes upon me -- more and more often. Perhaps it's just that my yoga studies are kicking in -- "be here now." But I think it's about knowing that these joyous present moments are limited now -- they could probably be easily counted up.
This post has taken a very strange turn for me. I thought I would speak of being tired, feeling a bit harried and hassled, in need of a vacation. I thought I would speak of spring's most delightful return (with much-welcome rain) to the Cumberland Plateau. I thought I'd mention that tomorrow night I'll have more roast asparagus from my garden, and how it's time to get the tomatoes and cucumbers, peppers and basil in. But things took another turn. A road less taken, perhaps.