What Would You Choose?

What Would You Choose?

Imagine that you are eighty years old. You have lived a full life and now you are slowing down. You have some aches and frailties, but for the most part you are doing well.

Then imagine you are suddenly given a perfectly healthy young body. But your spirit is still eighty. You remember all your life experiences and the wisdom you gained from them.DSCN0155

That is what happened to Clara, the protagonist of my novel Never Again. After her transformation, she was delighted with her vitality and health, but also found her new life confusing, and the incongruity between her body and spirit increasingly distressing. Finally she asked the Elirians, the immortal extraterrestrials who had transformed her, if she could have her old body back—and learned that she could. DSCN0184

As she struggled with her choice, she turned again and again to nature. She saw herself in the tree that held onto its leaves too long and was bent with snow, and in the flowers that were still blooming in late fall when it was time to make seeds. When the Elirians asked her about birth and death, she explained the human life cycle by comparing it to the seasons on planet Earth. DSCN0323

In recent months I have given several talks about Never Again. I tell my audience Clara’s story up to her point of choice, and then ask, “What would you choose?”

It has been interesting to hear their answers. The ages of the people in my audiences has been between late forties and early eighties. Most were over sixty.

The discussions were lively.

The younger people were more likely to choose to keep the young body. They were into life and wanted more. Perhaps it was hard for them to imagine what it would be like to be eighty.    Older people in the audience, with some exceptions, chose to return to their old body. Some said they loved their retirement, not having to be on a schedule, following their own rhythms, enjoying their hobbies. Others spoke of looking forward to seeing what lay beyond, to reconnecting with loved ones who had died before them. No one over eighty chose to keep the young body.

Then, of course, they asked me what I would choose.

It is a difficult decision. Oh, to have a young body again! To be able to leap and run and dance for hours, to reclaim lost yoga postures, and climb high and far in the mountains. To wake without pain. There is also the lure of the path not taken, and the tempting thought that I now have the patience and maturity to be a much better parent than I was the first time around.DSCN0049

But like Clara, I am weary, so full of memories I feel I can hardly hold more. Clara said, “Too many memories. They weigh me down like the pack I carried up the mountain. No, heavier. Much heavier. Like an immense manuscript hanging over me, riffled by the thumb of God, a blur of endless pages falling on me, page upon page, pressing me into the ground.”

I find the increasingly impersonal and electronic world daunting. And I do not want to sit in a hospice room and watch my elderly children die before me.

The season of my life turns. I am curious about what comes next. Already I feel my skin becoming more permeable, the boundaries of myself softened. I long for a more complete blending with Spirit, a longing that has called me all my life.

Not yet, not quite yet. But definitely I don’t want to wait another fifty or more years.

What would you choose?

Aging In A Sacred Manner

Aging is tough. There is so much loss. Little by little our bodies betray us. In varying degrees and combinations we lose our teeth, our hair, our hearing, our vision, our memory, our continence, the flexibility of our joints, our very strength. It’s embarrassing, humbling, frustrating. We also lose the ability to enjoy many of activities we loved. And far worse than these physical losses, is the loss of friends and family who die before us.

Clara muses as she struggles with her aches and fragility: “It’s only aging. Aging is never easy. It’s the toughest challenge on top of all the challenges of incarnate existence, and comes at the end when, hopefully, we have accumulated enough strength of spirit to handle it.”

How then do we age in sacred manner? How find transcendence out of such myriad difficulties?

My mother, Katharine Day Barnes, wrote a poem in her old age, from which I derived the title for my novel.

“There are warnings enough—that first cold night in August

When Andromeda swings up in the East and crickets are silent!

The early dusk of September, heavy dew in the garden,

And blurring eyes, and aches, and names forgotten.

Never again, never again the summer of strength and beauty.

Friends waver and vanish—O chill north wind of warning!

Look long, love deep while you may.

Too soon December.”

Perhaps the first step in bringing transcendence to aging is accepting it, and the death that looms, as part of the natural rhythm of life.

Clara explains to the immortal Elirians who seek to understand aging and death, “It’s like the seasons of our Earth—the newness of spring, the fullness of summer, the withering of fall, the death of winter.”



Gratitude and presence are also key to aging in a sacred manner. Gratitude for all that is past—all the gifts, the adventures, the people we have loved, the lessons learned. Gratitude even for the bitter lessons, holding them in gentleness and forgiveness.

Gratitude for the present. With age, let us find at the last the wisdom to savor the gifts of each moment—the opening of a flower, the mutable colors of the sky, the shining eyes of a child, the smile of a beloved, the taste of food, the comfort of a warm bed. Most of all, may we drink in and give back love.

When Lenny and Clara learn that Lenny is dying, Clara asks in grief, “What will we do?” and Lenny answers,  “We will live every single moment we have left together so deeply each one will be an eternity.”

As we age we become like an old rock wall that shifts, settles, and crumbles. Being grateful, being present are like growing flowers into our crumbling spaces.

Look long, love deep.

Winter Solstice

The still point of the turning year. The longest night. “Solstice,” in its Latin origins, literally means “the sun stops.”

There is magic in that moment of stasis.

When we ride on a swing, the higher we go the slower we go, until that brief ecstatic moment when we hang suspended before descending again.

The dance of Sun and Earth is like that. The Solstices, summer and winter, are like the peak moments of the swing. The light changes more slowly as it approaches its shortest or longest day, hovers for a moment at the Solstice, then picks up speed as it moves toward the Equinoxes, when the days and nights are equal. Just as the swing descending moves fastest as it skims its closest point to Earth.

Howard Thurman, a beloved friend and teacher to me, was Dean of the Chapel at Boston University when I was a student there. In one of his sermons, he told a story about being a boy in Florida, fishing in a small boat in the ocean. He described how his line would pull taut, drawn out to sea with the outgoing tide. Then it would suddenly go slack. His buoy would rock on the waves for a short while, until the line swung slowly around to pull toward shore as the tide turned.

One of my Sufi teachers, guiding us in a breathing meditation, said, “Between the inhale and the exhale, realize. Between the exhale and the inhale, realize.”

Swing, seasons, tide, breath—all move with this rhythm.

As we enter the still point of the longest night, may we pause to receive that moment of stasis and open to its gifts.

  T.S. Eliot, from Four Quartets

“I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope

For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love

For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith

But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:

So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”