By Nedra Chandler, 3-minute read (thanks for photo used with permission from Bob Wheeler’s recent visit to Poland.)
We spent Thanksgiving at the small family farm run by my husband’s family in Eastern Montana. They have lots of critters running around: turkeys, chickens, goats, cats and dogs. With so much life, there’s always a story about how one or the other of the critters met their end. Coyotes, foxes, hawks, owls, snakes, raccoons are the critters and also eat the critters. Many of the critters end up on a table somewhere. We ate Wendy for Thanksgiving dinner.
My husband Scott and I were talking politics, culture, global warming and such when he said, “We’re all just a bunch of critters running around.” Gulp. My man is so…grounded.
I’ve shared his straightforward observation a few times in the past week in coach partner conversations. Because here we are right in the thick of our personal and shared critter reality. I hope this is useful to point out to those who read me. I find dwelling on this fact valuable in the same way I find poetry life giving.
It’s remarkable how many of the leaders and teams I am coaching with right now are facing health or other crises themselves or have family, employees, friends or neighbors who, like all of us if we wait some more months or years, we we will know serious jeopardy of some kind.
Here’s a meditation on that theme
Joy, joy, dread, dread, dread.
joy, joy, dread, dread joy.
Like that. The cadence of life. That’s my sense of my own current, approximate proportion of joy and dread and everything in between, both/and.
Not long ago I got a text message from one of us — could be any of us – saying, “I won’t be able to join you tonight at (event). We’ve had an unexpected ‘life bomb’ – a mass below (name’s) heart.” Cancer.
Lively life, suddenly breath taking. The inevitability of adversity parades through and makes itself noticed.
Another dear friend: same story, just many years younger, and trouble in slightly different locations in the body, but same narrative: life bomb.
Then a phone call with a former work partner: “You know Nedra, my life has taken a big turn. I have brain cancer. I am in the sit-and-wait-mode after surgery and chemotherapy. I have a lot fatigue. That’s the worst of it right now. I really can’t work and I wish I could. I miss it you know.”
Another phone call with a client from years back, letting me know he was dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease. I heard a surreal quality in his voice, strained across distance, saying with gallows humor, “yeah, you probably won’t see me alive again in this meat suit.”
There, in an instant: oh! Well hello death. Aren’t you the biggest bummer?
These moments exist right alongside the exhilaration of babies, wonderful relationships, music, great projects, mountains, poems, art, snow, bicycles, puppies and kittens.
Today, I really mean today, death stopped by my friend’s home with just a brief wave and said, “hi, I’m coming for you sometime, and coming for every single human, every living thing. Oh, and while I’m at it, I will also come for your sun.”
“Wait, what?! Our sun?!”
“Yeah, it’s just a star. It happens to be the one that warms the earth you depend on. Eventually, inevitably, I’m coming for it too.”
Father Uncle Cousin Kid!
That is a sneaky way to swear. Thank you Sally Crabtree, my brother-in-law’s mom who learned it as a young girl just after World War II.
I can still see the look of mild confusion on Bob’s face at last year’s company retreat just after he brought up the subject of our personal “bucket lists” and I threw a metaphorical bucket of cold water on the whole concept of having one at all. A bucket list, that is.
I was the bummer in the group. Instead of inspired to future trip I more often get the creeps and resist. Sort of, “I don’t want a bucket list! How about we be here right now?” For some unknown reason I blurted out into the fun others were having, “we’re all going to die you know. Death will come for all of us.” Nervous laugh, oops.
There was no thanks from Bob for my penetrating glimpse into the obvious. And, if you’re still reading here, maybe you aren’t thanking me either. That’s okay. I’m hellbent on expressing it anyway.
See? It’s freeing to just notice the rhythm of life’s dance back and forth from one side of this bridge in Krakow to the other. Between all kinds of polar opposite states of being, feelings, situations arising from inside and outside ourselves. We walk that bridge, run it, dance it, sleep on it. Sometimes moving faster, sometimes slower. Back and forth between dread and joy, fear and courage, life and death, or deaths of innocence, marriages, and other smaller deaths before each of our individual last breath in the body.
I can’t explain why I dwell here sometimes. It’s both disturbing AND so freeing. As a critter on this bridge I feel awake, a little extra awe.
joy, joy, dread, dread joy. Dread, dread, joy, joy, joy. A rhythm I can appreciate. An insight I can use: stop forgetting we’re all just a bunch of critters too. A bit about me: I work with government clients and their partners as a professional coach and third-party facilitator in navigating conflict, change and learning opportunities of all kinds. Sometimes I just post what I’m musing about. Thank you for the gift of your valuable attention. I appreciate you and I enjoy hearing back from readers. Find me here once a month, more of my long-time work mates at Triangle Associates and my colleagues at Elation. If you see something of value here for you or someone you know, please pass it along. Thank you.