I'm reading
Belonging
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
Belonging
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
Belonging
Pass it on
Pass it on
Articles
19 April 2019

Belonging

That’s how you belong—not by finally arriving, but by having longing for arrival quickened, by being willing to long after life by living.

Written by Stephen Jenkinson and sponsored by Cranlana Programme.

This extract is sponsored by our friends at Cranlana Programme

What does this mean?

This extract is sponsored by our friends at Cranlana Programme

What does this mean?

It seems to me that as you get older, you might bear down upon your life and give it the quiet consideration it deserves. Do so, and you could catch glimpses of the shoreline that guides it and contains it and won’t let it go on forever. It’s mournful, and it’s trued. Many’s a time I’ve been asked in interviews whether, having seen so much of the deaths of others, I’m finally “good” with my death, all resigned and accepting, my desire for life left in the parking lots of demise, the keys left inside. As if that’s what I’d want, after all that.

I tell you this: from the glimpse of my death I’ve drawn down a great longing for life.

We have this word, belong. We use it to mean, “being part of.” But the old English prefix be- has the semantic consequence of intensifying as it goes. So belonging means something closer to “the deepening of longing.”

That’s how you belong—not by finally arriving, but by having longing for arrival quickened, by being willing to long after life by living. That’s how I belong, anyway. I find that being alive is habit forming. I’m deeply fond of the thing now, irremovably fond of it, properly wrinkled as we both have become.

So, catch a glimpse of the end of what you hold dear, even of your ability and your willingness to hold someone or something dear. Don’t blink. There are all the unbidden memories of things that were good and things that were otherwise and never made quite right now come, all of it is true and trustworthy now, the edges honed and mercifully sharp. Your life curls back towards you in some way just then. Great lengths of it are raised by the hone of your faithful witness to the full weight and the full wreckage of your allotment, what you did with what was entrusted to you. Your life finally, for a while, is something like you now, legible in the curl. The dispensation of age can settle upon you. The light of these older days of your allotment can pass through the curl of your memories undisturbing, undisturbed.

Held up to the window in the unforgiven light of judgement and regret, that curl of memory might melt away altogether into the dust it is anyhow. But it is aligned for the moment instead, by whatever tempered discernment you can manage and by your love for that which you won’t live long enough to see. So it is bound into something sinuous and fragile and precious and elegant. And there is your life, mysteriously sent back to you in the small, labored-over pressure-fitted box of what you could not concede.

Your children and mine were born into a troubled time. Among a host of other things, that is something we did to them, unawares probably. And if we put our shoulder to the mournful wheel of this living world, and proceed as if they are here among us, and if we are wrecked on schedule and get good at that, we will end up in being thieves of a kind. We will take from them their chance to go on as if those who came before bore them in mind not at all. They will have their poverties, yes, but they will not inherit that one from us. They’ll have to find other reason for not being able to go on, for giving up on it all. They’ll have to find their own misanthropy, different prized possessions. They deserve less than we had, less of that poverty, not more.

Would that hearing this story does something like that to your day, unsettling you in that strangely welcome way that leaves nothing as it was and prompts grace and gratefulness thereby. Maybe a story about a father and a son, curling, then uncurling in just that way, is the elder, for now, for however long the story seems needed and useful, going as the elder goes, bound soon enough for the quiet corned, the end of its days.

This article is an excerpt from Stephen Jenkinson’s book, Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble.

Click here for information about upcoming events with Stephen Jenkinson.

For more information on the Cranlana Programme – Age and Ethics symposium Click here.

Stephen Jenkinson

Stephen Jenkinson is a farmer, writer and teacher who explores what it means to die well and experience the fullness of our days.

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