This post reflects on the need to appreciate all that happens while you’re busy making plans.
Like many children of the 90s, I was handed the ‘Where do I come from?’ book as a matter of course. My education on procreation was rounded out by a short session at primary school facilitated by none other than Mrs Safe. The obvious gap in the curriculum was navigating the relationships around creation. Sex education in schools and life is still fraught, but there is now recognition that consent and respect are at the core of every interaction, not just the sexual ones.
Life is not any one act; it is all the in-betweens. It is the not knowing, the faith, joy, and disappointment. We are all in a constant cycle of creation and death; getting comfortable with the realities of beginnings and endings is a life’s work.
Death came into my awareness at an early age. The absence of my mum’s parents raised many questions in my young brain. I came to understand, perhaps too early, that there are no guarantees. My grandparents’ final act defined their whole lives in my mind. To think of them was to recall an image of their unconscious bodies in a mangled car.
No one event defines us; instead, it is the big and little acts that make up a life.
I recently acquired a folder of photographs of my grandparents I had never seen before. In them, there is a holiday snap of my grandmother and her sister on a trip to Ireland. It is the kind of photo I have participated in. A group of young people are smiling, waving and carefree in it. The handwritten note on the back guessed at the image’s context, “May and Annie on a trip probably paid for with betting wins”. In another photo, my grandparents sit on a bench in a garden, and my grandmother is smiling as she sits on my grandfather’s lap.
Seeing these images and poring over the narration that a distant cousin scribbled on the back, I now appreciate my grandparents’ fullness. The grim imagery I created as a child has been replaced by their hope-filled faces and an appreciation for the sense of adventure that motivated their migration to Australia.
Sometimes, the keen awareness I have of death motivates me to embrace the time I have with gusto. I can be very impatient; my mind jumps to the next ten steps. My husband tells me I begin sentences that have paragraphs ahead of them, left unspoken. I want to see progress before others are ready to move forward. I recognise this tendency, yet I still find it hard to slow down and let it be. I can find it difficult to trust the timing of life and all the unseen moving parts. I want to say everything that could be left unsaid if my time ends abruptly.
Given my mother’s history, the other book I was handed as a child was Lifetimes by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen. In it, the authors illustrate the life cycle, concluding that we all return to the earth when our time comes. I have since embarked on an earth-based spirituality practice that embraces the Wheel of Life and women’s cycles. My understanding of life is not as a single beginning and ending point but as the many deaths and rebirths we must embrace across the life cycle.
My maiden self had to die to become a mother, and my mother self will die as I transition to crone. To flow with these natural cycles of life is to find a sense of peace, a peace I imagine I will only really come to know if I am fortunate enough to make old bones.
As my family and I drove home from a recent weekend away, our car passed a scene that reminded me of the life cycle. A group of primary school children stood in a line, their fingers grasped around the chain-link fence separating their oval from the funeral home next door. They watched two women unload a casket from a hearse onto a trolley. It was a hatch and dispatch scene unfolding before my eyes—a fitting scene to conclude a weekend spent celebrating endings and new beginnings.
As we finish another year, I hope you will take the time to appreciate the messy middle and any endings or new beginnings that may be unfolding.
Check out my post, ‘Making Gravy,’ about navigating an imperfect Christmas season.