My eldest son turned 20 a few months back. It was around a week ago that I found myself sitting in the bath with my 7 year old daughter, trying to recall the last time I’d had a bath with him.
It’s been a long time. Maybe 8 or 9 years.
On the exact day of this very last bath that he and I had (think: ‘The Last Supper’ – but much wetter, less food, and a lot fewer people) I had no idea what was taking place. The last-timeness of the event was completely hidden from my view, as indeed it usually is. Last Times are usually appreciated in hindsight.
The memory I have subsequently constructed – a simple combination of water, soap, skin and togetherness – is now enshrined in my mind, sort of. Truth is, I can’t quite reach into it, even though it feels precious to me. Instead, I’ve reinvented it, a little like creating a short film so I might try and re-experience what it might have been like.
The gifts of “Last Time” consciousness
Here’s a real Last Time memory, no imagined short film here. Over a decade ago, my then 80 year old father was dying, and his sister was out from South Africa to see him. I was driving her to the airport for her flight home, and we stopped at the hospital so she could say goodbye to her brother.
And it really was goodbye.
My father and his sister KNEW this would be the last time they would ever see one another. What I remember most was the great difficulty for us all in even acknowledging this fact. But we all knew. Marked upon their faces was the knowing that this would be the very last time they would inhabit the same space. I want to go back to that moment and ask them both: what was it like? To really, truly know that it’s the last time? To be absolutely sure of finality?
I think that sometimes it’s just too much to feel into. Last Times don’t get more intense than ones like this, and I can understand why it was left unspoken. I imagine them both drinking in every single life-filled detail of the minutes they spent together. I hope they did anyway.
‘Known’ Last Times become infused with a beautiful, razor-like intensity. Senses are alive. Time slows down. We find ourselves located right there, inside the present moment. Past and future have no meaning here.
And yet, if you could move through your life with the power to know Last Times, would you? I imagine them being soaked with equal parts gratitude and grief, as I am confronted again and again with the pain of letting go. And yet, the gift of this knowing would also paint my life experience with greater appreciation, intimacy and presence.
Taking my daughter to school this morning, I was hit with another Last Time realisation. My middle son started intermediate this year, and he now catches the bus to his new school. As she and I got into the car this morning, I smiled at the memory of how much energy I would sometimes lose around arguments they would have with each other in the car about all kinds of ridiculous-to-me minutiae. I laughed to myself as I realised that I was missing even this. The morning school drop-off journey now seemed a little more devoid of life – I would never have imagined I’d feel this way!
When things in our life leave, change or die, our focus will often expand to include more of what the moment, situation or relationship really contains. Where I used to focus on the frustrating aspects of that morning car journey, I now expand my view to also embrace the beauty of it: our togetherness & connectedness, our learning (yet again) about how to be in relationship with each other. I am reminded once again that there is always more in every moment, more than we often allow ourselves to experience.
How then could a greater awareness of Last Times help me be more awake in my everyday life?
Holding hands with my life
Beginners mind is a practice I’ve read about many times over the years. It describes a practise in which each time a situation presents itself, we can attempt to experience it ‘for the first time’ as a way of stepping outside of the “oh here we go again (groan)” reaction we are often sidetracked by. It’s a way to approach life with fresh eyes/mind.
It struck me today that the common thread that connects First Times and Last Times is presentness – in not allowing myself to be pulled into either the repetitive nature of things, or into attachment, and the resultant grief we often experience in letting go.
The first time you make passionate love to your beloved, and the last. The first time you breastfeed your baby, and the last time. Often infused with intense feelings and emotions, first and last times exist in the realm of birth and death. A realm in which we have an opportunity to really be there – meaning there is more to notice, more more of our life for us to experience and show up for.
I’ve found the Beginners Mind concept to be really useful in helping me deal with the repetitive nature of family life. I find it can sometimes take the edge off for me. Human beings are pleasure seeking creatures; we desire newness and variety. Repetitiveness can tend take us off into a world of “I wish I was anywhere but here”. Beginners Mind reminds me that maybe there really is newness in THIS moment, if I take the time to look hard enough!
Similarly, being focussed on Last Times helps expand my appreciation for and presentness to the moment, in a different way. Most of the time, we don’t know when they are coming.
As I walked my daughter to school this morning, she let go of my hand. Handholding has since fallen away with my two sons, so I can already feel into the future of the last time she and I will be doing this as anything but a novelty. So, I have some foreknowledge of this future Last Time, unlike that bath with my eldest son.
I grab at her hand again, holding it again gratefully. I bring it up to my mouth and kiss the back of it. She smiles at me and kisses mine back. My soul feels light and happy, and I feel right there with her, and with me; right there in the very centre of my life.
And it’s beautiful there.