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Getting Used to Not Being Here

Updated: Jun 22

Because one day I won't be


Outdoor meal at a table with a young couple with a son and daughter. A grandmother in a light blue dress leans across the table to help serve food. Sun sets between green trees.
A lovely day with our daughter Lara and her family at Evergreen last summer. Photo by Rob.

Evergreen has been my home for nearly thirty years.

 

In the beginning, I walked around the property like a guest, living on its surface.

 

Now, my feet have grown roots and I’m at one with this place. Every day its essence courses through my blood, slows my heartbeat, softens my face, and joys my eyes.

 

However, one day I won’t be here. My time on earth as a physical thing called Marlane will end.

 

As I walk around Evergreen, soaking up what the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins called the is-ness and suchness of this place, the thought of me not being here one day stops me in my tracks.

 

I imagine the scene surrounding me being turned into a felt-board picture.

 

Pieces of felt shaped like willow trees, a fence, chairs, table, blue gate, ponds, yellow standard roses in pots, cedar-wood-clad house, birdbaths – and me, wearing a light blue summer dress – are arranged on the board.

 

These pieces of felt are moved around the board, telling different stories every day.


Sometimes I'm on my hands and knees planting seedlings. Another day I'm raking leaves. Another day I'm picking flowers for the lounge room. Yet another day I'm helping serve food to grandchildren sitting at our table in the garden (pictured above).

 

Then, one day, out of the blue, someone or something (the Grim Reaper perhaps) reaches out and removes the piece of felt that is me, leaving a gap. I’m not in the picture anymore. Marlane is gone. For good.

 

There is a momentary coldness inside me at this frightening thought.

 

I keep walking around the garden, wondering if I’ll be missed and thinking of all the things I haven’t done yet that I want to do.

 

Then I notice decaying things all around me.


I watch a small cloud form briefly and then dissolve in the heat; pick off a dried out pink and white dahlia flower; collect bits of bark shed from a eucalyptus to throw onto the scrap heap; find a dead bee lying curled up in a pale pink cosmos flower, no longer busy collecting nectar.


Things like dissolved clouds, dried flowers, shed bark, and dead bees remind me that I’m a part of nature.

 

That’s me one day, I think to myself.

 

The thought that the world will keep ticking along quite happily without me is humbling but, unexpectedly, it also makes me smile.

 

It’s a relief really.

 

Like items in a grocery store, my body has an inbuilt ‘best-before’ and ‘use-by’ date. It can’t last forever.


Die Before You Die

 

In his book Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Dread of Death, the existential psychiatrist Irvin D. Yalom wrote:

 

It's not easy to live every moment wholly aware of death. It's like trying to stare the sun in the face: you can stand only so much of it.

 

But as his book discusses, it’s good to stare at death briefly, from time to time.

 

It’s a reminder to live fully, now. I’m only here for a short time.

 

In Practicing the Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle makes this suggestion:

 

Die before you die.

 

This isn’t a maudlin recommendation. It’s a deeply spiritual one I should heed.

 

Let go of self-importance. Release desire. Cease self-isolation. Dissolve into the great Oneness because that’s my next stop.

 

In the meantime. instead of wondering how much time I have left I’ll just notice appropriate things for me to do next.

 

Perhaps I’ll paint a white teapot bright yellow, buy a ticket to Rome, make phone calls I’ve been putting off, or try once again to design and plant a herb garden that would make the eyes of the famous herbalist Nicholas Culpeper (1616 – 1654) pop in his grave.

 

And I’ll keep appreciating Evergreen.

 

With love, Marlane

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