For the last two years the fact of my mortality has been crowding my day to day awareness in a way it’s never done before.
Maybe it’s because my grandmother died last summer, just a month shy of her 100th birthday. Maybe it’s because I have seen my parents move almost overnight from confident and robust, to uncertain and frail.
Maybe it’s because my adult children have flown the nest for good, after a decade of working a circular flight pattern. Or because each week seems to bring news of another icon from my youth passing away. Or because long time collaborators in the corporate world are starting to retire.
Retirement is the farthest thing from my mind. I’ve never felt more alive, engaged and creatively expressed. Still, for all my vitality I have not been able to escape the feeling that I am being pulled along by forces beyond my control, through the various stages of life, toward the end of time. As if life is a self moving sidewalk making its way through some kind of interactive Disney ride that I’m nearing the end of.
I’m not trying to avoid or deny the inevitable. According to scientists at the University of Pennsylvania I can expect to live 89.9 years with a 50% chance of living past 90 and a 25 % chance of living past 96. Going with the last possibility, that means that I still have as much as 40 years left. The thing is, I don’t want to live this 40 years in the valley of the shadow of eventual diminishment and death. I don’t want to live it with the perspective that what I’m experiencing now is the long tail of my life.
When faced with this kind of puzzle, my habit is to turn the question over to my imagination, to see what words and images and associations it can come up with.
By visualizing the problem I realized that I’ve gotten stuck thinking of life as a timeline that moves in a linear path from one point to another, beginning to end. As long as I’m stuck in this perspective, all there is to do really is to measure the distance and perhaps reduce velocity and try to increase resistance as I move along the line.
But I remember just enough of my high school geometry to recall the vast array of shapes and patterns that exist in nature. And it is there my mind has taken me to try to parse out my current dilemma.
I remember when I was a kid I had a drawing toy called a spirograph. It used coloured pens and a set of plastic circles and gears to create complex patterns on the paper. In technical terms it was based on the differential geometry of curves. I didn’t know then what that meant, only that it felt satisfying to do.
With the image of the spirograph in mind, I started to play with my life line. And visualize it as something in continual motion, creating ever more complex and beautiful patterns around a centre point. I saw that each day, each season, we move away from and return to our centre in a series of arcs of various dimensions. Each arc is its own small adventure. The cumulation of the arcs, create the pattern that is our unique signature in the universe. If I let my imagination run further, I see that the patterns are eternal, part of the fabric of the universe. That even after our death the ghost of our signature pattern remains in the cloud somewhere.
This type of imaginative play cheers me up considerably. And makes me ask, not how much time do I have left and what should I do with it – questions that makes me feel desperate and anxious. But, what kind of line drawing do I want to make next? Where do I want to take my life line this year?
I think it odd, and fascinating, that when considering existential questions my imagination has guided me to the maths and sciences for answers. This meditation has occured in the realm of geometry. But physics has also been front of mind, as demonstrated by the name of my latest one woman show, In Chaos I Trust: The Grand Unifying Theory of My Life.
Three morals in this story,
1. Life is a spirograph.
2. Every day is its own small line drawing. The drawings layer upon each other to create an intricate and beautiful pattern.
3. The creative possibilities are endless.
yours with creativity and imagination,
p.s. The feature image for this post is by my friend Martyn Kendrick, an artist whose work explores the patterns of sacred geometry. Follow the link to learn more about his work and how to purchase it.
p.p.s. In Chaos I Trust is playing Feb. 12 and 13, 2016 at The Red Sandcastle in Toronto. Follow the link for tickets.