Soul Clap Hands

I am here to learn. It is time to refocus. After all my floundering I am on a journey to a new wholeness. Indeed, I am aware that I may be headed towards what may well be the last adventure of my life.

I need to hone my generosity of spirit. Coming out of the blind time, I remember the care of so many when my husband was dying. (I remember specially the hospital kitchen staff workers who would pick up a pudding from Barry’s untouched dinner tray and offer it to me. When I would shake my head, unable to remember how to eat, gently, patiently, they would unwrap the spoon and put the food to my lips as one would feed a baby.) So, interconnectedness, yes.

Afterwards, if in the long winters after my husband’s death my focus narrowed to family and friends, now I want to open my ideas of love very wide. Actually, I need to be alive to Thich Nhat Hanh’s interbeing. Feeling the old, mossy rocks beneath my feet, smelling the rain-laden wind, seeing an old man huddled on a bench, how could I not know that all of these are my companions on my last journey? They nourish me, as I hope my awareness enriches them.

Before, if you had asked me what was home, my immediate answer would have been that my husband was my home, the only one I needed. Most often I could rest in him. Now my very sense of home has to change. It feels important to me to write about the journey to this new understanding.

But, paradoxically, though, at the same time I am coming to a whole new appreciation of solitude. How ironic it was that in the fever of my marriage I sometimes had fought for alone time. But now, walking by myself, mastering the art of loneliness, my question needs to be: Can I embrace this new gift of abundant solitude and make it my own?

When I began to consider a name for my letters to you here, in the back of my mind was the Zen koan The sound of one hand clapping. In some Zen training, this riddle is given to novices. The novice meditates on the meaning of the riddle, and studies it with a Zen master to absorb its teachings. At first I thought that this particular bitter challenge suited my life.

But clapping is expressive communication. It takes two, a listener and clapper. As I tried to begin again, over and over I wept and asked, how could I speak my truth without Barry? He was the person who most understood what I wanted to say and who gave me the blessing of wise, acute criticism. How was it possible that I could write without his keen insights? Only then, as I set out on my uncharted way to a new wholeness, while reading Stephen Cope’s miraculous The Great Work of Your Life, I was jolted by a quotation from Yeats:

An aged man is but a paltry thing,

A wretched coat upon a stick, unless

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

For every tatter in its mortal dress,

This was my answer: it had to be the soul clapping hands. Really, I already pretty much knew this was my new path. All I needed to remember was that being challenged to live this new life would require more than hands. It was my soul which must clap its hands and sing, and indeed louder sing, and I would need to be committed to doing so until my mortal dregs were exhausted.

But how was I to do this soul singing?

Gradually waking up to a new wholeness, surrounded by my precious world, my own sacred whole, in the end, I decided on Mother Teresa’s Small, With Great Love as the name for my letters to you.  It will be easy. But easy is also hard. So, as a solitary living in nature, my question is: “What can I do with what remains?

Love is Life.

Today, I am standing in reverent stillness. A soft snow waxes and wanes, dusting the evergreens. Small birds dip around me, feathers brushing my cheeks.

Look again, I hear. Look deeper.

But most of all, I hear:

The only remedy for love is to love more. ― Thoreau