I always thought that Moses got a raw deal. He leads the tribe out of Egyptian bondage; wanders through the desert for 40 years watching as his generation, raised in slavery is replaced by a generation who knew slavery as a story, not a life. And when they reached the Promised Land, Moses may look into the land of milk and honey but cannot enter.
And for so many years, I thought (or perhaps projected?) that this must have been so frustrating – permitted to see but not enter. How must that have felt? I felt it as a personal loss until I heard an interview with 90-year old Alice Parker, a composer of chorale music, who provided an ‘aha moment’ when responding to a question about ‘the passage of time.’
“That as we’re born, everything is new. So we have all of this experiences we have to go through to begin to have some idea of about what’s going on. So, you have all these learning years, and in your teens, you’re beginning to learn about relationships with other people, and emotions, and all that that leads to.
Then you’re 20 to 50 — maybe 20 to 60, you are so caught up in the business of living, in the business of being a parent, in the business of being a teacher, or whatever your occupation is, that you don’t have time to look at it as a whole. And it seems to me, I was about 60 when I began to see my own experiences adding up to me instead of being very diverse experiences in conducting, and composing, and teaching, and mothering, and all the rest of it.
And so it’s as if before then I’ve been in this going — living through this miasma, this series of scenes and acts that are just so full of activity there’s no time to think. And when you begin to get out of it, it’s as if you’re putting your head up above water, and you’re looking out and saying, “Oh, is that the way it works?” … And you just see differently. So that your vision gets farther, and you begin to see how things relate in a way that you can’t when you’re right in the middle of them.”
And taken from this vantage point, Moses was not frustrated but completed. As the year ends and we read the multitude of ‘best of’ lists, I reflexively begin to make mental notes on the best of my year or if in one of ‘those moods,' years. Like Alice, I found the interests and concerns of the 20-year-old I manifested themselves in various guises throughout my working life. But from this particular hill, I see not only how they pop up here and there but how they tie me together in a greater whole. While for many years, I saw the perspective of Moses as a limitation I think I am beginning to see that the perspective allows one to see how all the parts fit. It is not, as I think about it, a completion; rather it is an enlargement of vision, a current summation. The ability to find narrative strings for my life, being able to put the parts together in a way that makes sense for me – “to begin to see how things relate in a way that you can’t when you’re right in the middle of them” is this year’s gift to myself.
Leaving clinical practice had its difficulties, not so much the operating room, but in the changing relationships moving from physician to knowledgeable civilian. For many, those leaving and those observing, see the changes of ‘retired’ as people playing golf, moving to Florida or pursuing adventures long delayed. But the dialogue that finds the strands of our life and brings them together is within and almost invisible. For so long, my understanding of Moses and the promised land was about the golf or moving or pursuing. But, until recently, I failed to recognize the opportunity Alice Parker describes, “putting your head up above water, … saying, ‘Oh, is that the way it works?’ … And you just see differently.”
I am struggling to find the right word to convey my feeling. Acceptance – has shades of resignation and second best; recognition – seems too definitive and final; appreciation – doesn’t capture the emotion of the aha; completeness – at once too clinical and conclusive. I feel drawn towards peacefulness, which gets at the calm but feels a bit pretentious when I write the phrase.
Parker ends the passage as Moses might and as I do “I don’t want to go back and change anything else that happened because that’s all part of what brought me here.”
It has been awhile since I have written and I thank you for your attention. I hope the season upon us finds you and your cherished well and content, if even for a few moments.