This existence of ours is as transient as autumn clouds.
To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking
at the movements of a dance.
A lifetime is like a flash of lightning in the sky,
Rushing by, like a torrent down a steep mountain.
from The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, by Sogyal Rinpoche
At the 2018 A.A.I. Convening, Steering Committee member Teri Dowling shared her reflections on these words from Buddha, as part of the “Listening In” at the beginning of the day.
A Flash of Lightning
This year in August, I’ll be 73 years old.
I’m going to retire on June 30 after 44 years of employment with the City and County of San Francisco. This is a happy retirement. I love my job and the people I work with. It feels like a gift to leave this phase of my life on a high note. Looking back, I’m aware of how quickly the time has gone by — like that flash of lightning in the sky. I honestly have few regrets in life and feel so grateful for the many experiences in my past that got me to this place. Last week when I met with the retirement office, I learned that because I have worked for so long, my retirement is calculated based on how much I’ve put into the retirement system and actuarial data — how long I’m expected to live. I looked up the actuarial life data published by Social Security, which says I will live an average of 14.34 years more! A strong reminder that life is much shorter moving forward into this next chapter of life.
I really welcome this next chapter of my life. Right now, my husband Mal and I are in relatively good health and I want to spend more time with him and our family and to be more spontaneous — go to Carmel on a Tuesday for lunch, watch a movie at the theater in the middle of the day, drive to Portland on a whim, fly to Rome to drink coffee at a local cafe. And, as I have always done, I want to try new things, make new friends and stay actively involved in my community. I feel very much alive with energy to spare.
I’m also aware that life is finite. In my 50s I had Stage 2 breast cancer and had to come face to face with my own mortality. The fear of death I felt at that time has faded, but the experience helped me put death in perspective. Now in my 70s, my parents are no longer alive, a few of my friends have serious health issues including memory loss, and a few have died. I know that sickness and death will happen to me and the ones I love, but I honestly don’t think about it often. I think about now and the future, the years I have left, to live my life fully for as long as I am able.
Yes, time seems to speed up now that there is less ahead. Even these last few months at work have been speeding by faster than I ever thought possible. I’m now, at 73 years of age, facing the future with optimism and an openness to new adventures, love, joy, gratitude, the inevitable sadness of loss, and, hopefully, acceptance.