There’s a world of difference between the real and the simulated, between the ‘is’ and the ‘would-be’. In terms of soul-making and a life well-lived it’s all the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.
In the greater scheme of things we’re all lightning bugs, I suppose, trying to shine, trying to find community and union.
I’m sensitized to the rarity of quiet authenticity these days as I venture into my seventh decade. As I wade into efforts to live and love again as I promised Charlotte I would do I’m struck by how little deep growth occurs between high school and mature years with reference to romance, dating, and love: same coy masks, same posturing to impress, same insecurities and self-consciousness, same fear of revealing True Self.
In fact, in some regards, it gets worse as we age. “Girlfriend” and “Boyfriend” sound fine at 16, but silly at 70. At 70, unless Life has awakened us and grounded us in our inner gold, we can be less spontaneous than the young because mind-numbing over-education exiles the child in us along with our awe and authenticity. Relational scars leave us living our fears instead of our joys.
But the trajectory towards masks and games can be averted. Since Charlotte’s death five years ago I’ve come to see the River of Grief as unique blessing that threw me in a new direction. Coming face to face with Death and the helplessness of the human predicament strips away illusions, tosses us naked into life’s tenuousness, fragility, and mystery. It takes Death to teach us the meaning of Life.
Said another way, it takes Death to teach us to be authentic, to embrace our True Self, to be what we are without pretense or excuse. I like Rumi’s word-pictures about the difference between the would-be and the real. He says:
“How long do you look at pictures on a bathhouse wall? Soul is what draws you away from those pictures to talk with the old woman who sits outside by the door in the sun. She’s half blind, but she has what soul loves to flow into: She’s kind; she weeps; she makes quick personal decisions and laughs so easily” (Coleman Barks, The Soul of Rumi: A New Collection of Ecstatic Poems, 2001).
Rumi is right. Soul is drawn to kindness, to eyes and hearts softened by grief composted into growth, to no-games self-assurance, and to easy laughter. Soul is all about the beauty of the authentic dance of the personal with the great mystery.
So, I’m getting out there as I promised Charlotte I would do. I’m experiencing joys I never expected and a Boy’s wide-eyed bewilderment over mysteries of new romance and love in my 70s.
I’m discovering Life has changed me.
In a crowd enamored of ‘image’ my soul is drawn elsewhere.
Joseph Harvill, publisher Great Scots Magazine