. . . . the teacher will appear.
In high school, a funeral director came and talked to us about how she prepared a body for viewing. She passed around the plastic disks they use to keep eyelids shut. I immediately wanted to go to mortuary school. Even though the funeral director was standard American beautiful, blonde and bubbly, I felt this ambition would be frowned upon. I was already quiet, drawn to Edgar Allen Poe and stormy Victorian novels. I had both a black leather jacket and an ankle-length black trenchcoat, and enough sense to know that further tipping the “weird” scales might cause more anxiety than I wanted. So instead, I studied literature.
Eventually, through a series of twists and turns and misdirections, I found my way to being a massage therapist — drawn there because I had been working in nursing homes and retirement communities. I felt compelled to train for something that would be more directly of service to older adults. Most of all, I wanted to work with the people in later stages of dementia, or in hospice. My ambition still tilted towards the end of life, and finally I was able to express it and mostly ignore anyone who acted like I just tipped the weird scales.
After becoming a massage therapist, through a series of twists and turns and absolute serendipity, I found my way to oncology massage. I found myself still working with people near the end of life, but caught at that stage much sooner than we feel is natural. I needed to do more than trust my compassionate instincts and really learn about the dying process.
And that is how I found myself in this end of life class last month. We sat in a circle on the first day and our teacher asked us to introduce ourselves and say why we were there. Here is my best memory of what I said:
“In the same way that many people are drawn to children, I have always been drawn to people at the end of life. So I thought I should learn more about it.”
And we went around the circle, and each person said their reason, their carefully curated truth. So our teacher nodded. She paused. She looked around at each of us and said:
“Okay. Now tell me why you’re really here.”
And the only thing I could think of for an answer was:
“I don’t know why I’m here. But I’m supposed to be here.”
I know what I said was true, and I am just now finding out why. Soon after I got back from that class, I was presented in rapid succession with clients whose conditions were deteriorating, and friends whose family members were actively dying, relationships ending, and general life upheaval. All that talk and meditation and reflection on the impermanence of life was (is) constantly, practically, in-my-face, REAL.
I’ve been in this place before, but I haven’t been this person before. I felt all the lessons of my own past life upheavals finally came together inside the nurturing touch of that class, and I could finally just be. That fix-it instinct wasn’t gone, but it was quiet. This is it. The still-emerging reason why I was really there. I was ready to just be, and just in time the teacher appeared.
Thank you, L. The learning continues.