I recently came upon this story — one that I had written five years ago. And now, I live in Washington, where, curiously, my life has come back full-circle to my earth-mother days. I bake bread, grow food, feed the birds, and live surrounded by family and grandchildren. Yet, when summoned, I am still a hospice nurse, a midwife, sitting at the bedsides of loved ones, accompanying them as they pass from this life. Pearls, indeed. . .
Sorting through a box of old photos last night, pictures I have not looked at for decades, I was surprised to uncover evidence of a past life so far removed from where I am now that the memory of it came back like a shock and left me unsettled.
My movement during those years had been very physical. My body was lean, and I could feel the strength in it as I moved across the land and throughout my world. It was a time of boundless, passionate energy that was focused on outer activities. Years were spent driving around the county helping to midwife new life into the world. Raising kids. Burying myself in the rich, musty loam of the farm, growing food to eat and sell at the market. Grinding wheat for baking bread in the wood-fired brick oven. Traveling the world teaching. Sharing birth stories to inspire others, reminding them that they are perfect and powerful and know how to push life from their bodies. I was an earth mother. Life was full and it was juicy. And it was also impermanent.
A death, a fire, a divorce. . . Seismic life-shifts that cracked my frame. Paralyzing sorrow and heartbreak followed — the kind that brings you to your knees and forces deep inquiry into the Big Questions.
I was a mess. Eventually, my journey led me to the path of the Buddha. Taming my wild mind, opening my heart, cultivating compassion, and living my life in service to others became my compass. It pointed me in a direction that felt true and made sense.
But after fifteen years of living and working at a Tibetan Buddhist Retreat Center, I became restless. I wanted to work with death and dying, something that had been at the top of my bucket list for years. I was sixty-seven years old and had been away from active nursing for many years. It was an insane idea — absolute craziness. But I took the leap, and a door opened. I walked through that door, and three years ago I moved to a coastal community to become a hospice nurse.
So. . . this is where I am now. I am not lean, and my body is not strong. I do not live a physical life. I do not resemble those old photos. I am quiet and contemplative. My inner landscape is rich. People tell me that I am calm and competent, but that is not always my felt experience. Sometimes, I feel anxious. I have doubt. I worry that I do not know enough to do a good job. I am being stretched, riding an edge that is not comfortable. I dance every day with the reality of change and transition. It is difficult, and it is also magnificent. Imagine. I have a job where I can be tender and touch people. Sometimes I cry with them. It is intimate, skillful work, and I love it.
I do not fully understand why I am where I am other than it feels like I am in alignment with my soul’s journey, and I trust that. And during the times when it is rough and gritty — like sand in an oyster shell — I wonder. . . Perhaps someday, over time, a pearl will appear.