It has been some time since I’ve sent out emails announcing a monthly issue of 2nd Tuesday. The best of our intents continually face-off against the circumstances and challenges of our lives and, even more intuitively, against the movements and desires of our hearts.
Our spirits also shift, sometimes for reasons we cannot understand. We look up from breakfast one morning and realize that it is some other time in our life. While going up a stairway or down a hall, while glancing from our desks at work or during a meeting, or mid-sentence in a relationship, the question comes – “What am I doing here?” We notice the clock, blow the candles out on a cake, hear geese overhead, pass by a mirror – and a voice within us asks – “When?”
My experiences with existential questions have generally paired with an identifiable period of time-related to my age, a relationship that suddenly feels different, a significant event like a loss or a physical illness, or have been prompted by gnawing feelings of dissatisfaction or unhappiness. When I was younger, the questions arose out of desperate feelings of anxiety.
In regard to my commitment to 2nd Tuesday – as might be traced in the unannounced entries that I have made during the last six months – my wife and I have gotten older and the circumstances and rhythms of our lives have changed. My initial intent to share ideas encouraging people to reimagine their lives and find gratitude in the everyday crashed into the experiences of several personal losses, the physical challenges of pain that required several surgeries, and the enormous shadows created by the shifts in the political and cultural climate of our country. I have also felt a growing alarm about the degree of apathy and lack of reverence that exists for the wondrous gift of our planet.
I would find myself hoping to write a potentially uplifting article for 2nd Tuesday, or feel the need to come up with ideas that would encourage others in the face of the dark news of the world. The question would rise – “Why am I sitting here doing this?” I would then think about my desire to abandon my original vision of 2nd Tuesday in order to explore ideas that would reflex my growing awareness of the challenges and the physical and spiritual aspects of aging. The question would come – “Well why not do it, Fred?” To answer I started, last January, to wander through the idea of changing 2nd Tuesday. I ‘wandered’ by silently posting entries from my journals, poetry, and prose about time and change, writing down thoughts about aging and loss, and sharing some of the visual musings I had begun through a process of gathering objects into what might be regarded by some, as contemplative ‘altars.” Not being a Buddhist nor a witch or of some religious order that teaches and adheres to the ways of alters or the rituals of shrines, in order for my spirit to better learn from and grasp my own process, I termed my practice, ‘Realms for the Soul” – a monthly assembly of objects and symbols of intention and meaning to both my wife and me.
It being an old story – but perhaps a new one to some readers – forgive me for a moment for revisiting one of the driving forces for my having begun 2nd Tuesday five years ago.
In 2010 I died during a routine medical procedure and after 40 minutes of CPR was given the gift of a life largely unburdened by the physiological and cognitive potentials of that event. As a result of the experience, I was blinded in one eye by the force of CPR, have time sequencing challenges, and a degree of dyslexia. With the Universe’s return of a few of us, I feel there arrives the opportunity to become a messenger of sorts with the responsibility of nudging others about the impermanence and preciousness of life. Aldous Huxley once wrote, “Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.” 2nd Tuesday became an opportunity to experiment with the responsibilities I felt tasked by my event. But, in the routines of the every day, gratitude – as the result of an event can dim over time. We are awed for a while before once again noting the shadows of life and taking for granted our next breaths and those of the ones we love.
As I earlier suggested, I am struck awake from time to time by the imperceptible changes that drop us into the ‘years later,’ looking puzzled and sometimes feeling victimized by time. The question of “Well then when Fred?” rose to the surface of my feelings in April when three seemingly divergent events converged over a period of several days.
On a Tuesday I saw a cardiologist that I hadn’t met before. During the annual exam, he said, “I don’t know if anyone has talked to you about this, but the repairs that were made around your heart were intended to last five to ten years and well, Mr. Swan, frankly this is year nine and so you have some decisions to make.”
The following Thursday my wife and I visited her brother (and my friend) Paul who is now lost to us as he wanders the puzzling geography of his own mind and the halls of a memory care unit where he once served as the medical director. In the quiet and order of my office that same evening, I wrote a journal entry about having asked Paul to dance with me hours earlier that day, (Paul can stand with support and rock from side to side to music – one of the few natural responses he has left).
The next morning, while entering another unpublished article in 2nd Tuesday – another journal entry about grief – a note fell from a cork board and onto my desk. Written on the paper was a quote by Hermann Hesse, a note that I’ve kept pinned up in various places since I was in my late 30’s; a piece of paper that had become so ordinary to my sight that I had no longer given it a second glance much less considered its relevance in my life as an older person. In looking at the quote, my life-long struggle with authenticity gathered with the events of the last few days and the old question was reborn in a new urgency.
“All my life I tried only to live in accord with the promptings of my true self. Why has this been so difficult.”
Short quote – long battle. What will people think if I began to say what I truly felt and did only that which I really wanted to do? In the present what will happen if I stopped painting so frequently – stop putting so much energy into producing art? What would happen if instead, I put my energies into our everyday lives and started sharing and exploring the impact and challenges of my wife’s and my aging process – out loud – explore how we and others might best obtain and embrace the riches of our lives regardless of our age, resources, physical abilities, and – through the death or mental loss of them – the support of the people and animals who have most ardently cared about us – those few beings who might have truly ‘known’ us? How, given the new realms of the aging experience, could we live the balance of our lives “in accord with the promptings” of our true selves?
And so, I’ll begin – or have already – the exploration of the second chapter of 2nd Tuesday and its reflections on the process of an older life. I hope the path I’m taking will resonate with some of you. I will be honored by those who stick with me as I begin this journey. One of the challenges in the history of 2nd Tuesday was that – without a comment section attached to the articles – I never had the opportunity of hearing people’s thoughts nor was I able to engage in a conversation with readers. A comment section has now been implemented. I would be honored by your input.
Available now are articles that I began as a quiet experiment in January, posts about the realms of grief, sacred trays, old bones, cold bones, and entries from my personal journal including a recent reflection about the lesson I gained from having asked my brother-in-law to dance.
So -.”When then?”
I have for the last six months and will in the future post blogs every week related to the new path of 2nd Tuesday, but I will only send out an email announcement to subscribers once a month. July’s 2nd Tuesday blog – which will go out in a formal email announcement will consider the importance of stopping – pausing, and their relationship to happiness.
Not on the list? I would be honored if you would sign up on the site.
All the very best,