When I was 14 years old I was in love with Ringo Starr. I mean really, truly in love with him. It had been a couple of years since I sat in that Grade 7 class and spent the year writing “Mrs. Terry Hanson” on reams of paper; Mr. Hanson being my first male teacher and the object of eternal love of almost every girl in my class. I don’t remember anything learned that year! Back to Ringo. I remember sitting on the floor in the living room of my home in London, Ontario and watching Ed. Sullivan as he announced a music group he referred to as the four youngsters from Liverpool.
I saw so much more than four interesting looking men – well, three handsome and one interesting – making amazing music. What I saw was a phenomenon, an archetype: what I saw was freedom to live life the way you wanted to. Had I been involved in meditation in my pubescent years, my favorite mantra would undoubtedly have been “do what you want to do, know where you’re going to, think for yourself ‘cause I wouldn’t lie to you.”
When I finished high school I chose to “do what I wanted” and I went to spend some time on a kibbutz; a time to live on the land, contribute my efforts in physical ways, and experience life in a communal environment. Just an aside, my thinking about going to Dharamsala when I turn 60 to meditate for a while might not be so different from my thinking at 17. Scary! I was supposed to be going to a religious kibbutz (you make concessions when your parents are footing the bill) but within an hour of arriving there I heard somebody say they were about to drive into Jerusalem and did anyone want a ride, and decided on the spot that I’d spend my first weekend/Shabbat in Israel in Jerusalem. I climbed on to the back of an open “tender” (the Israeli version of a pick-up-truck) and hung on while we bumped our way – our long way – into the golden city. I was sharing the back of the tender with some folks who lived in a village along the way, and a young Israeli soldier. Just a reminder – I’m from London, Ontario, and grew up thinking that pretty much all Jewish guys looked like the ones I knew. Not this one! Lucky for me he was there, too, because our tender arrived in Jerusalem just before sunset on Friday afternoon and by then the buses had stopped running and I had no idea where I was going. He said he’d show me a good hotel (girl from London) and I said “thanks” and he showed me a good hotel. That first Shabbat sleep was at the Kings Hotel, which – incidentally – I also stayed at for a couple of nights on my honeymoon with David. He came back for me after giving me a few hours to rest, and he walked me into the old city and we had the most amazing pita and hummus I’d ever eaten, and we walked some more, and he took me back to the hotel and asked if I’d like to go for a walk around the city the next day. On Shabbat he came, we walked for hours and hours, and he helped me figure out that I really did want to go to spend time on a kibbutz but not the one I’d selected with my parents, and he showed me how to arrange to go to a different kind of kibbutz and how to arrange the move. We had another dinner in the old city, and he was off … back to his unit. Never saw him again. He’d helped me carve another slice of “do what you want to do”.
There are many more verses to the “do what you want to do” chorus in my life. Some brought me amazing joy. Some brought me sorrow. Some came with challenges that seemed insurmountable. Some ease of sunshine and lapping lake water. In some piece of my life, at most times in my life, I’ve been able to at least carve out a little piece of “do what you want to do” space; the other joys in my life in combination with this quiet space have blessed me with being able to deal with the challenges that life brings much of the time. As I sit here today – on a deck-chair on a dock over Jack’s Lake with a hot, bright sun beating down (yes, it’s true, I actually can barely see the screen – sometimes not at all – but I can’t bring myself to leave the sunshine) I am keenly aware of the opportunity to do what I want to do; thus the name “For The First Time” in the blog.
I am also keenly aware that for most of my life I found my own ways to put up roadblocks to actually doing what I wanted to do. By overloading my plate I made it nearly impossible to fully revel in the taste of anything, and my excuse was that I had to carry such a heavy plate. I wish that I’d had the wisdom when I was younger to look at that plate – really look at all of the things on it – and decide which things were the ones that connected with my heart and spirit, and which were trappings I was merely attached to. Had I been able to separate out the trappings, to do some winnowing (saw a thresher on the drive up to the island today … hence some agricultural terms slipping in) I could have focused much more – and much better – energy on the heart and spirit things.
So, when I put all of this together as the sun is hiding behind clouds, I see that on the verge of retirement I am once again given an opportunity to live the life I want, to connect with the things of my heart and spirit and prune the trappings to a manageable size that doesn’t get in my way too much. The challenge is in how to do that well.