“After apprenticing to such narratives, in typical Western fashion, many of us revise our stories as we move away from home turf, family of origin, and select our chosen intimates. We slip into wider worlds of profession, coded behaviors and cultural expertise.” Caring, by Tarthang Tulku.
I would have expected to find this passage unexceptional, a simple statement about a process of growing up in which I can recognize my own coming of age. In fact, I studied another book by Tarthang Tulku (Knowledge of Freedom, Time to Change) in the context of a retreat in the early 1990’s where recognizing the stages of the first 21 years of life was examined and I found it a useful, not especially threatening, exercise to do so.
But last week, I tried reading the passage quoted above on two successive days and felt halted in my tracks, as if hearing the tread of the grim reaper in those innocent words, which are surely the 101 of any sociological or psychological view of modern, urban life. But my son didn’t complete this “move away from home turf, family of origin, and select his chosen intimates.”
It wasn’t until a few mornings later, when I was able to continue reading in this recently published book by Tarthang Tulku, that I realized something else. I need to remain open to the footsteps of the Grim Reaper, if I am to rediscover that life is full of possibilities and live out my remaining days with purpose.
I am still not used to having the most familiar explorations of what it means to be a human being catch me unawares; to how my eyes will suddenly look past the familiar interpretations of ordinary thoughts and feelings and see a ghost standing there.
As is said about pregnant mothers-to-be–that they are eating for two—I seem to be looking out at the world with eyes that are no long exactly my old eyes, as if I am seeing for two. And the world, with which I enjoyed a mutually respectful relationship, together with some history and shared plans for the future, has shifted. I now question an image of myself as an evolving being who has already found what is most important and who just needs to keep doing what he is already doing.
I hope that, given a little time, I will develop this binocular vision: of seeing life as a journey with many pathways and many voices, some of whom are wrapped in silence. Perhaps no true journey can ever be completed, and in this very incompleteness we are being offered a brand new book of knowledge, in a new edition every time we dare to turn a page.
I appreciate the consciousness I have been given as a human being, but sometimes I don’t recognize the road I’m on. That’s OK, as long as I don’t close my eyes on the next hairpin turn. After all, two eyes working together improve depth perception, or so I’ve heard.