August 29th, 2009:
Over the past couple of weeks, I've been reading two divergent autobiographies: My Life in France, by Julia Child and A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz. It's interesting to meander through the lives of these two very different people while I'm also creating this blog which has as it's foundation, the autobiography of the end of my life.
Julia's story is about her liberation by the sensory. She's forty, a virgin and marries a man who's steeped in the pleasures of food, wine, the arts, the flesh. He understands that she has a deep ability to experience pleasure, and their early story is about how he awakens her at a fundamental level of savoring, tasting, smelling, evaluating her experience based what her body tells her. Once awakened, she trusts her destiny and works extra diligently to learn the techniques needed to purchase the best ingredients and learn the cooking skills so that she can replicate the sensational food that's available in French restaurants whether exalted or humble. Cooking leads to writing leads to her ability to project enthusiasm and teach cooking on television. Julia learns that her deepest passions are gifts that can be shared, and she is very generous. Her unfolding and expansion as a transmitter not only of French cuisine but also of a palate that appreciates culture is foreground to the dour Pasadena Republicanism of her father, Richard Nixon, and the turmoil that swept through the Cold War State Department that employed her husband. Fortunately, pleasure and good eating wins in this struggle. At least for the people who read, watch, listen to and cook with Julia.
Amos Oz has a more harrowing cultural legacy weighted onto his shoulders from a young age. Born into a family that fled Northern Europe in the mid-30's and moved to Palestine as part of the Zionist dream, the parents, relatives and friends that young Amos grows up in were vastly cultured, recently poor and totally unprepared for moving as assimilated or practicing Jews into the desert landscape of the Eastern Mediterranean. At the time of his youth, the Holocaust is in full roar although the dimensions of this disaster aren't fully apparent in the early 1940's. As a young man, he comes of age during the 1946 War of Independence and the creation of the state of Israel, a return of homeland after thousands of years of Diaspora. Oz's work traces how, as a child and adolescent, he navigated the deeply eccentric habits of his neighbors and family. The various levels of suffering by people unable to cope with emigration to Israel and yet with no plans to move anywhere else constellate around the ultimate rejection of living: at age 12 his mother commits suicide. The story of these European Jews in the first and second generation, carries the story of how Israel was populated by people whose hopes for a better life were often dashed by the experience of actually living in the real city of Jerusalem, not the golden city of Zionist dreams. As he grows away from his family and becomes part of the struggle to establish Israel, Oz also matures into a man who has witnessed the destruction of his family without being destroyed himself.
These two diverse and powerful authors work with different legacies of oppression to find a better way in the world. They embody cultural transformation. Their inner needs to have lives that include rejoicing and freedom to make choices push their destinies. It wasn't until this evening that I found myself venturing some comparisons between their achievements and this blog. There's the common ground of autobiography. My legacy is that after doing end-of-life care giving for some thirty years, I'm now facing the end of my life. That's the focus of the blog: how do I use the life I have remaining to prepare for dying? And what's being released in this awareness of less time to live? How is my life changing? What am I doing differently?
Those questions carry not only my own decisions and hopes, but they are set against a background of grim fear about the fact of dying. At this point, the blog becomes an invisible net where everyone who reads this starts to add their issues of apprehension, unfinished business, awe, denial, family legacy of dealing with death and much, much more. That's outside the perimeter of the blog but just outside. For everyone, the blog triggers their seismic reactions to death.
I see my end-of-life autobiography as holding how I've been inspired to express myself at a time when many people assume that expression shuts down. Today, my friend Philip was visiting and he said, "I admire your faith." He certainly wasn't referring to a conventional religious faith of any sort on my part. What I understood him to say was: You have trust in this process. You trust your body. You trust the larger universe that holds us. It was an honor to hear this, and I think that's the direction of this blog: it's about how I move out of this life with joy and all the other feelings that arise.