Today afforded me the opportunity to practice with impermanence again. In this fleeting world each day offers us this chance, some days are just more dramatic than others. Today was one of those dramatic days. This afternoon CK and I were with Atari as he passed away.
His health hasn't been good really much in his life, the past four and a half years particularly so. We were now looking at trying to treat diabetes in a cat who couldn't be handled enough for the vet to perform a full exam. He's been uncomfortable, unhappy, and nothing that has been done, or could be done, would give him consistent quality of life. He would have a few, fortunate days strung together between days of tremendous anxiety, pain, fear, and the resulting aggression.
Of equal importance in my mind today was a close college friend having surgery - a total hysterectomy and "debulking" of cancerous tumors. They found that she has ovarian cancer that has caused cervical cancer as well. Given my history of growing up with the fear around Mom's several bouts with cancer, including cervical cancer, and other major illnesses, hearing someone has cancer always brings some echo, no matter how small, of the deep fear I felt for her as a child.
Last night I felt my voice desert me for a moment when I came to her JAD's name on the merit list while I was chanting service after zazen. I felt my words halting and catching, revealing the Love that causes my voice to shake. For a moment after service, during tea & cookies, I felt as though I would start weeping for JAD and Atari, for CK and I, for all the names on the list in my hands and for all the people who have added those names. I was enormously relieved to find a short, but positive update from her husband had been posted when CK and I returned from the vet with our sadly empty pet carrier this afternoon.
Over the past several days I've been considering that although we can come to intimately know the truth of impermanence that knowing does nothing to alleviate the sadness impermanence visits upon us. Regardless of this knowing, this certainty of sorrow, we go into life with an open, loving heart. This is the essence of Love. This is the rich ground where we are able to cultivate the fearless compassion necessary to offer one another as we face changes, illness, and losses together.
We sink down into the inescapable truths of the Five Remembrances and embrace the certainty of our own suffering. This is what it is to be fully engaged and present in our life. In On Love from The Prophet it is written that some choose not to fully live, preferring to avoid how Love is a thorough shaking of our deepest roots. This may feel safe, however, in choosing to avoid the vulnerability of loving fully we are doomed to never laugh all of our laughter nor weep all of our tears.
It is the hard, messy facts of Love that crowd in around us and require us to become fully present to life. CK commented to me tonight that it is easy to be present for the good stuff, but how important it was to her that I am willing to be present for the really awful stuff. All I know is that I feel grateful to be present for the hard stuff, together.
It is only in being open to Love, the the desperate, beautiful impermanence of it that we can really say we are truly present with our own life. When we become fully present we are able, finally, to weep all of our tears and laugh all of our laughter.
The Five Remembrances
I am of the nature to grow old.
There is no way to escape growing old.
I am of the nature to have ill health.
There is no way to escape having ill health.
I am of the nature to die.
There is no way to escape death.
All that is dear to me and everyone
I love are of the nature to change.
There is no way to escape being
Separated from them.
I inherit the results of my actions of body, speech and mind.
My actions are my continuation.