It was interesting, I have to tell you, talking with other people who had no children to leave a legacy for — how few of them felt they were “entitled” to write an ethical will. In some cases, there was a bit of embarrassment, the old “who-would-want-to-read-my-thoughts” but from a decidedly disenfranchised place of being either single or childless. I felt it a bit, but then charged ahead. I’ve decided I’m going to mail it out with my holiday letter this year, as much because I’m not sending a lot of presents as I am because, hell, I could be dead next year, and I’d like to see what my loved ones think and how/if they respond.
Since I’ve never married or had children, I don’t have a conventional family system, but I have definitely created my family of choice. I feel incredibly lucky to include in that my immediate blood family but I also add into that number the amazing group of people whom I have been lucky enough to have love me. I often tell people that YOU are my greatest accomplishment. I have surrounded myself and bonded with the most exceptional people I have ever met. Being part of a clan has always been vitally important to me, as many of you who knew me in my cult years know. I have not always made the wisest choices, but I believe that with your help I have milked my mistakes for whatever vast or miniscule lesson I could learn, and then took it to heart. Through all this, I have tried to give you what I value most: honesty, trust and unguarded love.
I think the need to learn has always driven me. I have tried to outgrow myself constantly. My spiritual beliefs might be hard for some to understand, but I believe that we are part of something incomprehensibly bigger than ourselves, and that we are responsible to strive to understand it enough that we are able to give something back to this life we were blessed with. I have tried to treat each of you as though you have the potential to outgrow any obstacles or challenges you were given along the way, and if I have pushed you a little too hard because of that faith in you, I am sorry. The older I get, the more precious every moment is to me, and I want everyone I care about to live as large as they can.
Nature is alive to me, and I trust that it is absolutely complete in all the metaphoric instructions we need to know to live in our own divinity–God, hiding in plain sight, surrounding us everyday. I wish for all of you, with your busy lives, to remember that all it takes is a good long walk in the woods several times a week to remember to listen to the smartest parts of yourself, the parts that will keep you in respectful relationship to your body, your life and the Universe.
Without kids, I’ve had to be more intentional in where I put my devotion and focus. My work with hospice has been incredibly precious to me, as it has given me access to some of the language and experiences of letting go that we don’t get growing up in this culture. I am grateful for what I’ve learned, and I hope that I have made a difference in the lives of the grieving people and co-workers that I’ve been honored to work with. Having to remember to get myself out of the way constantly to serve others has helped me overcome my natural tendency toward self-absorption. This is partly what I mean by outgrowing myself. I’ve had the opportunity to be several completely different people in this lifetime as I’ve shed each set of beliefs and limitations, and I recommend it to everyone.
At 52, I have to say something to anyone who’s younger than me. It’s amazing to get older. Not necessarily fun, but amazing. Each age has its gifts and its limitations and I hope that every young, middle aged and older person in my life gets the right kind of support to go for the gusto in their age-appropriate tasks. For example, I wish I’d finished my education when I was in my 20’s and didn’t have anything better to do. I did finish college in my late 40’s but it wasn’t as easy as it would have been if I’d done it earlier. Your energy changes appropriately in each age. There’s a lot more of it when you’re younger, but it gets more sophisticated and interesting when you’re older if you use it for the right things. I say this because I’ve had a hard time letting go of the past, generally. Today I’d tell anyone, don’t miss a minute of your life by trying to hold on to something whose time is over.
My greatest life-transforming lessons have mostly come from my hardest times—working with a biochemical disorder, leaving the cult I was in while dealing with cervical cancer, the break-up of my serious relationships with lovers and friends. I think that’s true of everyone—that you dissolve when you are in deep grief and you live in the possibility of deepening your values and focus. For me, as I said above, they were lessons in letting go of the past, who I was and what I wanted, releasing my frantic need to never let go of anything. This must be one of my greatest lessons to learn in this lifetime, since I seem to be given opportunities to work with it almost daily.
Whatever difficulty presents itself to you is a gift, either something begging to be seen and understood, as Rilke said of our dragons, or a chance to let go of your personal agenda and align more with What Is. Same goes for whatever joy presents itself. Try to find your own way to trust God or the universe so you can get a bigger picture than your own small agenda. Once you do, you realize how lonely you were.
Take care of your health. You’re riding around in this incredible vehicle with operating systems you can’t even begin to grok, and it’s not only respectful to take care of it, it’s critical if you’re going to fully enjoy the ride. No matter what state your health is in, be grateful. There are lessons in illness, and the alternative to ANY state of health is death, so don’t be complaining unless you’re ready to get out of the vehicle.
I don’t believe we are meant to understand ourselves, grow, grieve, change, or fully enjoy life without other sets of eyes that see us through love. If you can’t let other people in, really in, to influence you and love you when you’re at your worst, or save you sometimes, you are going to have a tiny little life and probably be very angry on your deathbed that you missed something and you don’t know what it is. I pray for all of you that that never happens.
I’ve tried to be a good friend to all of you. I’ve tried to bring something into the world that may not have my name on it when I leave, but that brought comfort, encouragement and spark into people’s lives. I meant what I said at the beginning of this letter: you are my greatest accomplishment and I’m so grateful that you have loved me.