The season is changing. It is already dark now when I wake up. The familiar birdsong that acted as my alarm is absent. Too many times these past few weeks have I overslept, getting up well after I had intended to, rushing out of bed and heading to the kitchen for a strong cup of black tea to shake off the last bit of sleepiness from my body.
Where has the time gone?
I look around the yard. It has not been a good year for the garden. The cucumbers and the tomatoes which started out well in May, have stuttered, stop, and are dying before producing much fruit. I waited patiently for the jasmine and the bear’s breeches to bloom but, here it is, mid August, and, no blooms. The list of things I planned to do this summer, lost somewhere in the pile of papers sitting on top of the microwave, no check marks next to items completed. Day to day distractions and vague “busyness” caused those tasks to be put off till “later”. Busyness, because it is so often ill-defined, is deadly to both to-do lists and goal setting. It creeps into our lives silently and without warning, leaving us unawares of its impact until it has eaten up all of our time. Now, is beyond later. Now is too late. How often have I said, “It’s too late now. Oh well, there is always next year.”
Or is there?
How often have I said this throughout my life. I will do it tomorrow, or next week or next year. Tomorrows turn into years, then decades. There comes a time when it really is too late. My experience this summer with severe hip and leg pain has made me acutely aware of this fact as my body warns me that “too late” may be happening very soon.
It has given me time to think about all those things I said I was going to do in my life: hike the Appalachian Trail (at least some of it), visit the redwoods in California, or go into the depths of the Grand Canyon and raft the mighty Colorado. Is it too late to check these off my bucket list? For most of my life I have lived vicariously through others, watching in fascination T.V. specials or paging through images taken by others who were brave enough/rich enough/skilled enough to venture out into the world. I have become an armchair explorer, ever dreaming, convinced that those experiences are both necessary and, out of reach for me. I stay in this spot until I am forced to stand at a crossroads where a decision needs to be made from which there is often no turning back.
But what are these bucket lists anyway? They are a list of things we want to do before we “kick the bucket”. Many of my friends make them and I listen as they describe them, admittedly more than a bit envious when they check off another one from their list. They often include destinations like the Grand canyon or India or Italy. Or, they may be more adventurous like a safari or scuba diving off the Florida coast. While these all sound exciting, is this what I really want to experience before I die? What is my soul longing to experience? What is my soul list? Are there things my soul wants me to experience in this lifetime, things that have such an impact on me that it changes how I ultimately respond to the world?
It is at crossroads that our soul speaks the loudest
It seems that these crossroads occur more often as I get older, as if my soul senses the urgency of a clock ticking toward the final bell. But looking back over my life, I have come to believe that this soul list became evident while I was just a small child. I was eight years old when I wrote my first poem, and speaks of one of these soul experiences.
The roses my grandfather grew
Were big and beautiful
Curl and curl of beauty
That seemed to flow like honey.
I was young but I still remember
Walking through the garden
Holding my grandfather’s hand
As we listened to the birds sing.
I was five when my grandfather sold his house and moved to Arizona. The experience of walking through the garden with my grandfather left a mark on all my senses, even at such a young age. And not just the roses; but lilacs and hydrangea; the sound of water streaming over rocks; the comfort of the “fort” I built in amongst the shrubs that lined the creek bank. Nature taught me its language and how to converse with it in that fort. That knowledge changed the course of my life.
Soul lists often are not extravagant; they are seldom trendy or considered fashionable. Sometimes it is simply taking a road trip, a true road trip, where you get in the car with minimum possessions and take off, avoiding the super highways, and stopping at whatever calls to you – no plans, no expectations. Or it could be attending your grandchild’s weekly sports games, sitting along the field, the sound of children playing mixing with the sweet scent of dew on grass as the sun descends in the late afternoon sky, your presence affecting generations to come.
These soul experiences simply ask us to show up and be fully present. To put down our smartphones, turn off our cameras, stop all our busyness and running from whatever it is that scares us half to death and,
Be. Here. Now.
Our soul reminds us it has unfinished business every time we encounter a crossroad; every time sadness, or pain, or a crisis enters our life. The best thing I can do is throw away that bucket list, be still, and listen. What is my soul telling me to do before it is too late?