Paying Attention Bill McDonald’s
August 2015 - Volume 15, No. 8
The Night before the Beginning of my 75th Year
Tomorrow I’ll be 74. Perhaps I should wait another year, which would mark the completion of my 75th year. But I remember at 49 I did the same thing - borrowing forward as if in a hurry to move ahead with life. I hadn’t meant it to confuse others, though it did.
As if I’m jealous to be older - to taste already the promises of age and the inevitable diminishing of the number of years ahead. To taste a life that’s more compacted. More devoid of guarantees. Riskier. To make a better ally of my mortality. And have that as a benefit to others.
So this particular evening, while the pleasant evening light diminishes just outside the windows before my writing chair, I set aside my list of things needing done, and pick up a magazine from the pile. (There is always a pile.) Without thinking, I turned to the featured article. This must have been a gift from the unconscious one inside, for it was about the price we pay in our culture for denying our mortality. It was an engaging read.
My birth heritage
By my reckoning I was conceived a month and a half after the beginning of the London Blitz. I wonder what it must have been like for my English-born mother to bear me through those months of my gestation. Then after a scant 150 days from my birth, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Immediately our men and women went off again to fight a war that betrayed the “never to be again” armistice promise of just 23 years previous.
And so between the London Blitz, Pearl Harbor, Dresden, Hiroshima and Auschwitz, I spent my early formative years. I was born in the shadow of death, and to be sure that left a mark on my soul. Then in the 50’s, during the Cold War, I recall times when every large airplane overhead was potentially the enemy bomber that would annihilate us all. Then all the wars ever since. “When will we ever learn?”
And so it is with some psychic relief that I can now more fully face the years that will have the face of my own death to enlighten them.
I still wish and pray for long life, prosperity, good health, and a vitality that keeps me fluid. I’m also currently making new changes to my life style that are meant to enhance those gifts. Maybe that’s the excitement I feel - that even now in the closer face of the great ‘dice thrower,’ I can wrestle fate with a boldness I may claim as my own. It’s as if more than ever before, I can relish the battle by which I cherish and live my destiny.
Yes, there is grief. I have lost much, and made many mistakes, some sadly at the expense of others. Much of what I still desire I may never fully accomplish. I know the hunger for love, even while long surrounded by so much of it.
Looking in the mirror I begin to see faintly the shadow of my death. Yet, that’s more to be desired than seeing a face of innocence. I believe it makes me more fully alive than ever before. And I enjoy sharing this hope and perspective with those whom I engage in my life and work. I have much to share and much to yet accomplish.
It’s not a matter of having hope - or of not having hope. Hope is a way of holding onto a future. Rather it’s that I may not need hope any longer, I have today, and I am alive. And more and more that seems enough.
And so, as I face the 4th quarter of a centenary, I feel a slight smile forming. I am blessed. (Or is it perhaps relief?)
May it also be for you - whatever the number of your years, or the nightfall before your next birthday.
THE SUN magazine, August 2015, Chapel Hill NC pp 4-13
Eric Hoffner interview with Stephen Jenkinson, “As We Lay Dying”
Happy Birthday Bill!
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