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Living in the Layers

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.

We’re all collectors of sorts. Accumulating experience, relationships and perspective as we march through our time on this spinning blue ball in the dark vacuum of infinity. We acquire it all and, if we’re generous, bundle it up into shared wisdom before we become part of infinity ourselves. This sharing of experience differs from shared experience; that which you and I might experience together. Sharing is passing something of ourselves along to others, as I’m passing along this Stanley Kunitz poem.

When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!

The last few weeks are a whirlwind of my tribe coming home and leaving home. One returns, one leaves, friends stay for the weekend, other friends drift apart. We all scatter about to wherever the song in our hearts lead us. That we remain together at all is a blessing of shared moments.

How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.

I try to explain how this will go to my children as they graduate and move into new phases of their lives. Most relationships are based on convenience and proximity. Teammates, classmates, coworkers, soccer parents… in each case you share something in common at the same time and place, and meaningful moments collect here. But the bond is only as strong as the links that hold it together. Most relationships eventually drift apart, though you might pick up exactly where you left off when you see each other again and piece together what you’ve each been up to in the interim. Some relationships seem to stand the test of time and trial and absence.

In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.
– Stanley Kunitz, The Layers

Life is littered with old bonds broken by circumstance. But experience informs. We’re all changing, and our transformation continues even as the tribe changes too. Each layer of our life makes us deeper. Each chapter adds context and richness. We are the sum of our accumulated experience, relationships and perspectives to this point. All these layers add up to one hell of a stepping stone.

Which makes you eagerly wonder… just where might this next step lead to?

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