I should have been a philosopher. I think about dying a lot.
A few years ago I thought about it so much I stopped flying. Stopped doing anything risky. My anxiety levels shot up when I heard loud noises.
So I did what anyone these days does when life gets stressful. I went to see a therapist. I learned that most of my fear was related to this anxiety/worry about dying with unfinished business. Would I die with regrets? Would I die without those closest to me knowing how much I love them?
Dealing with the fear has not been that simple, of course. And it is also wrapped up in other traumas from early years that pop up and get mixed into it now and again. But the understanding of, the realization of all this has made coping so much easier.
I listen to podcasts every morning at the gym, and today’s with Kate Manser made me slow down and really listen. Then I flipped to an Atlantic article about Ernest Becker’s The Life and Death of Meaning and found this:
More often though, it’s the hope of symbolic immortality that calms the frightened rabbits of death-fearing hearts—the idea that people are a part of something that will last longer than they do.
Is this what I get from printing? A thought that my work will last longer than I do? I had not thought of this before, but I do love having my grandmother’s paintings on my walls and a stack of my Dad’s letters in my desk. These are comforting, constant reminders of the ancients. I love thinking that my grandchildren or great grandchildren might one day hold a letterpress printed card from me.
The article also addresses one’s world view as part of how we think about death, and it’s fascinating. “Their culture, their country, their family, their work. When thinking of death, people cling more intensely to the institutions they’re a part of, and the worldviews they hold.”
If you look at the problems that currently befall humanity—we can’t get along with each other, we’re pissing on the environment, [there’s] rampant economic instability by virtue of mindless conspicuous consumption—they’re all malignant manifestations of death anxiety running amok.
I know I am lucky, privileged even, to have the time, energy, and resources to spend time thinking about all this. First world problems, right? Yet, to each of us, a problem is a problem. The article ends with this, and I think I”ll ponder it for a while and keep on printing.
“Death destroys a man, but the idea of death saves him,” E.M. Forster once wrote. I don’t know if there’s really any salvation, but if we accept death, maybe we can just live.
My mom knows this– petting any animal brings her joy. I’m a big believer in the serenity animals can bring. They lower stress by releasing the hormone oxytocin.
I wonder if printing does this for me, too. I know. It sounds silly, but there is a calm that takes over. Perhaps it is the focus or maybe it simply takes my mind away from stress to something pleasurable.
These days we need to work hard not to let our emotions be hijacked. Nourish yourself with whatever takes you back to you.
This blog, started in 2005, has always been a place for me to reflect upon my life, whatever I am dealing with or learning about. At 66, that reflection has softened and widened.
The first few years (which I lost when I moved my blog to wordpress) focused on learning to run. I went from someone who couldn’t run more than a minute to a 50 year old who ran five half-marathons. Those were proud moments. I also experienced an online community for the first time. Is it dramatic to say this changed my life? It did.
Phase two: I learned all I could about the internet, finishing a master’s in instructional technology. I was an early adopter, and I often faced challenges and push back from my teachers as I tried to help others learn to use technology in the classroom. But I was a true believer, and I started a laptop program in my school, the second in the state. Once again, community helped me learn about wifi, cables, programs and apps, and how to best serve students. I still laugh when I think about downloading Manilla to our server to be able to have my first blog!
Why did I ever think I could be a poet? But I did. So the next few years I wrote about writing, publishing, and writing groups. Though I no longer write poetry, I renewed my love of words and still read and share verse often.
Upon retirement, I began letterpress printing, which brought together my love of words and quotes and a new passion for learning an old skill. Printing brought me back into community with caring folk, both young and old, who share their knowledge and love of letterpress.
These days, I am beginning to write about Alzheimer’s and the difficulties of caring for my mom, who is suffering. I write “suffering” because she is in the stage of knowing how much she has lost, yet still mentally “with us.” I try to balance what is best for her with what she wants— and it’s not an easy dance. Once again, I reach out, knowing there are others who have walked these steps.
For all the negatives of social media-and there are many-I am grateful for the community of friends and thankful for the support. As Mary Oliver says, “how miraculously kind some people can be.”
by Mary Oliver
Everyone should be born into this world happy
and loving everything.
But in truth it rarely works that way.
For myself, I have spent my life clamoring toward it.
Halleluiah, anyway I’m not where I started!
And have you too been trudging like that, sometimes
almost forgetting how wondrous the world is
and how miraculously kind some people can be?
And have you decided that probably nothing important
is ever easy?
Not, say, for the first sixty years.
Halleluiah, I’m sixty now, and even a little more,
and some days I feel I have wings.
Connecting with small, local businesses makes my heart open. I love collaborating with others on projects, and with my press, I can help create what they’ve been imagining. This is Willow’s two-color note card, which means running it through the press twice- once with light gray and once with dark. Pairing the cards with a pale gray envelope makes a lovely presentation.
Life has been crazy with moving my mom and trying to get her settled in a new facility. Taking time on the press yesterday made my heart rate slow down and my focus return.
A printer friend once said that she’d hoped she was saving letterpress but discovered she was really saving herself.
I get that.