Over the last few weeks, I have been reading in two books. To continue my study and prayer on the theme of pilgrimage, I have been reading The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred, by Phil Cousineau. And for my book group, I have been reading Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande.
It seems no accident that I’m reading these books in the midst of the move from our home of 17 years, to a small apartment. In preparation for the move, we have gone through everything in the house to determine if we want to bring it, or let it go (limited space is a big incentive here). We’ve gone through photographs, boxes of stuff from my parents, children’s toys and books (our kids are all grown now), college memorabilia, music, clothing, appliances, furniture, food cupboards. We’ve tried hard to stay focused on the task at hand, though there were many moments that I had to stop and ponder the memories that an item brought to mind.
As I read in Cousineau’s book each morning, I become aware of the sacred potential in this move. While our travels, as we packed and prepared, were no further – physically – than the next cupboard or the next closet or the next room, the memories that arose allowed me to recollect the ways in which I have struggled, celebrated, opened, defended, raged, and grown through the years. I have been reminded of the people and places and events which, and who, have been touchstones and milestones; pointing the way, leading the way, distracting the way.
I’m also aware that, at age 62, I’m looking into the last third of my life. This is a sobering thing to write and to look at. Gawande’s book, a powerful and challenging look at the strengths and limitations of modern medicine, offers a hopeful and life-giving set of questions to ponder as one faces illness and death. While I am counting on many years of good health and fruitful living, I have begun to think about my life’s pilgrimage with these questions in mind. What is most important to me? How does that influence my decisions – on what I do, where I live, and who I want to be with?
If I overlay the idea of life as sacred pilgrimage with the more present awareness of my mortality, what opportunities appear before me? Where do I want to go? What are the touchstones and milestones I am looking for? Who are my guides and companions? What is my guiding question?
I don’t see feel sad or morose or fearful about this. I feel enlivened and excited and eager to engage my life with a deeper gratitude, and a growing clarity. And to all who I know and love, I am thrilled that you are with me along the way.
~with thanks to Sarah Smyth Hauser for the photo