Living life well
Living completely, every day
By Jim Shere
In the mornings, as light slowly flows through my window and gently fills the room, I awaken and slowly turn to greet my two life companions — Maria, and myself.
At first there’s the light’s gradual increase and the texture of soft cotton sheets, and then the fragrance and taste of the starting day, and the sound of one of our children busily making breakfast in the kitchen— now fully grown, and no longer a child. My body tells me that day has already begun. This body, my only life-long companion, has grown older now, yet still accompanies each moment of this now long life— just as it has ever since before my birth, and will until my death sometime down the road.
I rise and go into the bathroom to look into the mirror and murmur “good morning” to the familiar face that I see there, and meet his gaze, and am content. This face has changed so much, especially over this past decade, as has my world; but looking into the mirror I’m reassured that it’s still mine. Then I go into the kitchen to stand at the window, to look out toward the trees at the far edge of the field, and at the distant hills beyond, and I drink a glass of water to begin my day. Breathing deeply, my changing body lets me know I still have a place in this changing world.
It will come as no surprise to some that this is the 99th column of mine to appear in the Kenwood Press. Actually, if you include a little piece I was assigned ten years ago, about the fabled ghosts of Jack London Village, this would be #100. Soon afterward I began writing about the many ways, why’s and wherefores of Living Life Well here, in the Valley of the Moon. Throughout the past decade, the pursuit of living life well has been aspirational for me, something of a spiritual practice you might say— an attitude, and a direction I enjoy taking.
Living well is a dynamic process, always active, never passive. Life, I’ve learned, is digested by living completely, taking life in within each moment and giving ourselves to it— savoring and swallowing it, being nourished by it and responding to it, and finding our part by taking part in it. I’ve mapped the coordinates of the body of physical and mental health, placing nourishment to the north and hygiene to the south, exercise to the east, and rest to the west— feeding and cleansing the body and the mind as we work them and play with them, and then giving them time to digest and recover.
Once, long ago, I was thrown from my raft into white water at the head of a churning series of cataracts and drops, and I thought my life was to be abruptly interrupted by my death. I believed I would never have the chance to finish so many unfinished things. Then the river in its wisdom graciously rushed me past every rock and safely down the chutes, and deposited my body on a sandbar far below. There, lying in shock, I realized that my life will not be interrupted by my death— and would therefore be complete— only if I learned to live completely throughout the rest of my life.
Over this past decade I’ve written about the challenges and pleasures of life, the celebrations and the determinations about living with integrity and with purpose. And I’ve written about the hard things— the illnesses and deaths of good people, and the loss of so many homes and dreams. I wrote about the deaths of my brothers, one by one, as my family grew smaller in one direction, even as it grew larger in another with children marrying and grandchildren being born. My appetite for familiar nourishments was continually confounded by a quickly changing menu, and the hopes of my heart became challenged by the hint of approaching storms that menaced, promising to change the landscape that I so loved.
The one column that was written and never published— interrupted as it was by the wildfires of ’17— was titled “That Something Remembered Can Remain.” It was about what could be kept despite the dismantling of SDC, the century-old institution that gave Glen Ellen so much of its meaning. And then, because an administration wanted to change the very direction of our democracy, by dismantling the institutions of our government, a disease that could otherwise have been managed far better spread like wildfire across the land, killing a half million of us. Reaching back into my Berkeley years of demonstration and resistance, I then wrote with resolution to galvanize decision and action toward better days ahead.
I look back over these past ten years now, and down at these hands that have written more than 100,000 words, and at this body that shows so many changes in my life— and I am grateful for their companionship. At the end of each day I look out the window at the landscape, and into the mirror at the many parts of my body, and recognize with amazement and gratitude how they have changed with me and yet still remain with me, remembered as my steadfast and loyal companions.
Now, I drink a last glass of water before returning to bed for the night— amazed and grateful— beside my other constant life companion, Maria, for whom I am also amazed and grateful. Here and now, I feel complete, as I go to sleep.