Charlie was the sort of person most of us want to be.  He seemed to be a gentle soul, able to enjoy life and the people with whom he shared it.  He was only sixty-one.  The diagnosis was a shock.  By the time is was discovered, the Cancer had progressed to an extent that was just too far along to be stopped.  The end came so fast there was hardly time to come to terms with the diagnosis, let alone prepare for today, Charlie’s funeral.

The words spoken at the service were healing, powerful, just what was needed in the face of such a tragedy.  The death was real, no pretense about that, but its power to destroy was stolen from it by words of hope in the Someone who took some water and some dirt (see chapters One and Two of this series), made Charlie, and has not allowed him to cease even though the dirt and water will return to their source.

As I said in chapters One and Two. I know who and what I am at the core of my being.  Whether framed in spiritual or non-spiritual language, I am dirt and water sparked into a living breathing, self-aware someone, for reasons ultimately unknown.  I am left to celebrate who I am.

The problem is, there does not always seem to be reason to celebrate.  Charlie reminded me of that.  Charlie lived a full life, good relationships, wonderful adventures.  He had a good time and those around him did too.  He lived with integrity, humbly, and seemed genuinely kind and gentle.  Those closest to him may have experienced him differently.  He was not perfect.  No one is.  Those who think they are perfect have the gaping flaw of hypocrisy and denial woven into there thinking.  Today reminded me that I am not altogether who I want to be.  I had better get busy.  I am already five years older than Charlie.

Yes, I know who I am at the most basic level, but juat as is so with the seeds and plants my Dad and I planted and cultivated and the produce we picked, this particular gathering of dirt and water, known as Pete, is in process.  I am growing and changing.  I am not done yet.

I am living in the gap between who I have been and who I am becoming.  You are living in that same gap.  While brain cells last our lifetime and white blood cells may live only days, the average lifespan of cells in our body is about seven years.  That means not only am I dirt and water sparked into a living being, the dirt and the water are constantly being recycled.  I am not even the same dirt and water I was a year ago or seven years ago.  The spark of life is not just a switch that turns at the beginning of life, it is a process going on moment by moment every day of our lives.

As a full time Caregiver, I am left with the painful truth that I am not always the person I want to be.  I am living in the gap between who I have been and who I am becoming.  I am often frustrated by my own selfishness and impatience and weakness and thoughtlessness, by habits that I wish I could change and the almost daily relapses as I seek to improve.

There are some options available to me when I realize that who I am at a particular moment is not who I want to be.  I can with a chip on my shoulder declare to myself and everyone around me that it is just the way I am and that is that — take it or leave it.  I can melt into a pool of self-loathing that I am not a better person.  I can justify myself and deny that there is actually anything wrong with me.  I can resolve never again to be that person I don’t want to be.  I can claim to be the person I want to be, even though I may be far from it.

In the Journal called Weavings, (March/April 2009 issue) a writer named Parker Palmer calls the place between who we want to be and who we are, the tragic gap.  He frames it in this way: “On the long list of hopes that have driven our ancient and unfinished project called ‘becoming civilized,’ overcoming the tyranny of the primitive brain is surely at or near the top.  No one who aspires to become fully human can let the primitive brain have its way….”

Our task is to learn how to live in the tragic gap between the reactive primitive brain’s rule (fight or flight) and the rule of reason and thoughtfulness and morality, things that are located in the front part of the brain, that which makes us human, at least in physiological terms.

Our task is to live meaningfully in the space between that which we don’t like about ourselves and the person we want to become.  Rather than allowing our worst self to rule, we are called by our humanity, to grow into something more.  It begins with the painful recognition of the truth about ourselves.  Then, instead of callous acceptance or self-loathing, comes hope, expectation, new possibilities.

I am living meaningfully in what Palmer call the tragic gap. I am not the person I want to become.  I am not the Caregiver I long to be.  I am not done yet.  I am still growing and changing and becoming.  There is an odd mechanism for change pointed out by Parker Palmer.  Here is what he says: “There is no way to be human without having one’s heart broken.”  More on that in a future post.

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