Like the start of most days, I woke up not quite sure the direction I was going to be led. It started with the usual roll out and make the bed and coffee with my wife.
As we were having coffee we began reminiscing of the time 6 years ago when we first moved to Florida. I was retired, she was retired and for some reason, we thought that moving into a 55 and up community was going to be a good idea. (More on that to follow),
I think the best thing that came out of our move to a 55 and up community was to meet our next door neighbor A,J, (Alice Jane). A.J. and her husband were a couple of the most grounded people I have ever met. A.J. at the time was 91; she was a very vibrant 91 though.
I spent a great deal of time in my existential life trying to figure out the: “who am I, what am I, why am I hear” type of questions. I tried to find answers in my cultural upbringing (Christianity). Finding the answers to existence with that system was not satisfying me at all. I had gone through a period of great stress and rather than medicating my stress with alcohol, I decided it was time to take up meditation.
In an effort to get meditation right, I decided to seek out a genuine Buddhist temple rather than learn meditation from a retired gym teacher at the YMCA who was simply reading it out of a book. For a few years, I attended a Buddist Vihra thinking that they must be the experts. I was very well instructed in the art of meditation and some very good philosophical approaches to dealing with stress and life. However, there were some requirements of Buddhism that I just couldn’t buy into 100%. Probably due to my western culture which I will not apologize for.
At any rate, to shorten this up a bit, I found my existential journey very unsettling. I spent too much of my life searching for definitive answers to questions that just were not meant to have answers.
In my career, I have seen so many things that just defy logic and make absolutely no sense on any scale. That’s what initiated my quest of wisdom in finding the definitive answers to the events that make no sense.
As I mentioned I spent time trying to apply the Christian philosophy I was raised with, then Buddhist philosophy and meditation, Christian meditation. I studied other philosophies and religions and while I found some truth in all of them there was still no definite answers to the messed up world we live in.
Then I met A.J. Right off the bat we hit it off. My wife and she would talk sometimes for hours in our driveway. Alice was religious but didn’t really believe in church. She seemed to follow that same kind of Christian upbringing that I did, but was a bit agnostic about it as I am. Without actually studying Buddhism she actually seemed to have Buddha nature.
A.J. was one of the few people in my life that were able to drive home the point: “don’t take life too seriously”. I’ve heard people say it before, but I’ve never seen it put into action. A.J. put it into action! She was never shy about expressing her opinion. I believe she was always this way and it wasn’t just a byproduct of her age.
She was so focused on the present moment that Buddist could take a lesson from her. One day during a deep philosophical discussion I made the statement: “doesn’t anything bother you”. Her response was: “not really. I asked her why and her response was that it was a waste of her time to worry about things that haven’t happened yet. Then she would point to a flower that she just planted and remark how beautiful it was. (She loved flowers and plants) I asked her about what she felt about the past. She said the past is simply a learning tool. She said: “in my case, I learned that there is a hell of a lot of things I shouldn’t have done”, then ended with a hardy belly laugh.
Alice focused back on the present and said that this time that we are talking is the only time in my life that matters. When I go home and start making dinner, that will be the only time in my life that matters. I asked: without some kind of mystical practice, how did you arrive at this kind of discipline”? She told me it was very simple:”just focus on the beauty around you”. A.J. new hardship in her younger years, but according to her, she would seek out the beauty in a depressed environment whether it was a flower growing out of the crack of the sidewalk or an unusually shaped tree at the end of the block. She would tell me that focusing on the awesome creation around her would drown out the depression.
Toward the end, I was absolutely amazed at the acceptance A.J. had for what age does to your physical being. It was clear that as she was going older, as she would put it, “parts are wearing out”. Her hearing was not great and her memory was starting to cause her problems.
A.J. used to love to sneak over to have a beer with my wife and me. She loved to tell stories. She had a large family and loved them all, so her family was usually the crux of the conversation. The funny thing here was A.J. was fully aware that her memory was not as good as it used to be and rather than spin a story and just leave it at that, she would end every story with: “well, that’s the story as I remember it, but it could be a lie”.
Alice Jane was extremely in tune with her mortality. A short time after meeting her we learned that she had developed cancer. My wife and I would help sometimes with transporting her for treatment. It was at this time I realized that Alice Jane’s philosophy and outlook on life was absolutely unshakeable. Her jokes got funnier, her life stories were as interesting as ever. As I would kind of break up about her having this terrible disease, she would remind me that the time will come when we all die. The only time that matters is right now!
Alice Jane passed away shortly before her 93rd birthday. I am a much richer person because I knew her. She took all the things I’ve tried to learn about myself and existence and wrapped it up for me in just the couple of short years I knew her. The present is the only time that matter. Oh, and I left out the “Golden Rule”. She was a big believer in the “Golden Rule”. She believed that we will never be a civilized people if we don’t all practice the “Golden Rule”. I would say that I miss A.J., but A.J. will forever live in my heart and in my head.
Thank you, Alice Jane!