December 16, 2011
"Nothing lasts forever, no-one lives forever. Keep that in mind and love."
- Rabindranath Tagore
Somehow we've arrived here again at the doorway to the holiday season. For me, as an ex pat, this has a whole other layer. For instance: Since I've lived in Europe, I've come to appreciate the fact that this “holiday time” is extended to about 2 weeks versus a couple of days in the United States. This takes getting used to…still! Mostly this lengthened time is a very sane phenomenon where people gather with friends and family, feast, get stressed out intermittently from familial patterns, then go for long walks on Dartmoor and genuinely gather in around the hearth.
I have lived more away from "home" than I have lived in my country of origin. I recently was in Mexico and discovered that Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patron saint of immigrants. This symbol of radiant feminine force is everywhere! I was very touched by this as I come from a long line of immigrants. We are called aliens, nonnative, outsiders, expatriates and foreigners (from Latin alienus ‘belonging to another'). The archetype of Jesus as an "alien" baby is traditionally celebrated at Christmas. We are touched by this image of vulnerability of this young family who seek refuge and long for belonging.
I live in England and not a day goes by where people don't ask, "Where are you from?" They presume I'm a tourist. I've lived in England for 21 years and 25 years in Europe. "Where are you from?" Becomes a really interesting question. Where were you born? Where are you did you grow up? Where did you go to high school? Where did you go to university? Where have you lived the longest? Where do you consider home? What does your passport say? What does your other passports say? These question all generate different answers.
Generally, at holidays, I'm away from my family. On the one hand I am saved from the stress and familial patterns that arise that most people endure over this time. On the other hand, I miss my family, I miss my long-term friends who are scattered about the globe and most of all I miss my culture and all of its associations at this juncture in the calendar. There are things that are awful too… in each culture. Don't get me wrong. It's not the hyper-consumerism I miss for instance. It's much more subtle than that. I'd love to say I'm immune to this romantic association I hold. But as I approach my late 40s, and all these years of living "away from home" I have surrendered to the fact that culture runs deep and it's more helpful to understand what's happening than to try and make something contorted of it.
And this year there is an extra layer on top. I have led a privileged life in many ways. Sometimes I forget this. But this year I have a constant reminder. A dear acquaintance of mine who has in fact been my my main masseur for over 20 years is dying. I have had the luxury of experiencing some of the best bodyworkers from around the globe. And this friend, who's only 68, is the best there is. He had a toothache that wouldn't go away and by the time he got to have the tooth extracted, he discovered that his body was riddled with cancer. The prognosis is bad. His choices are limited. It's only a matter of time now. And isn't that also true for all of us? Whether we have cancer or not. We all share the same life-threatening illness which is birth. Life is a sexually transmitted disease.
And how do we all live well until we die? I know that for those of us who are tending to this friend's needs in our own unique ways, this is very stirring. It gives us pause. It gives me pause. I, more than most anyone I know, have lost many friends and family. Each time someone near to me is facing death or has died I am once again given the opportunity to consider how I'm spending my time and my disposition to this life.
So if, at this holiday time I feel loss because my family and friends are far away, I can take succor in the fact that there is simply discomfort happening. I do not have to make the problem. And as I feel into what is happening there is a wonderful thing that happens. The feeling that arises generally gives way to another, and another, and another. And when I bring this awareness, and stop trying to push the river, deep peace is all that I am left with. “Nothing” is what I am left with. Blissful whole true emptiness.
And when the search is over, like from my friend who is dying now, I am reminded that my impermanence is the gift that keeps on giving.
"Where are you from?" is still an interesting question. "Where are you from?" I'm from right here in as I am. I am dying. I am perfectly imperfect. I am home. Who can I reach out to and offer a sense of belonging and home and love?