Over the Christmas period, my Auntie died. The timing was fitting - both her parents, my grandparents, died in the lead up to Christmas some 34 years ago now. It’s funny how certain themes get woven in to the fabric of a family’s narrative.
I knew my Auntie’s death was imminent. Some four years ago, shortly after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, she signed up to “Exit”, one of the the assisted suicide schemes available in Switzerland; a country she had made home since moving there in her early twenties. As her condition deteriorated, my Auntie mentioned her “option” more often. A necessitated stay in hospital before Christmas, no chance of returning home and being in too much pain lead her to say “enough is enough”. I cannot imagine the life she had to live these past few years, but I can understand it was too much and she had a choice to cease that suffering made available to her.
I’m writing on the Sunday before the New Year, one more week of my holiday time still to go; it is still 2019...but 2020 is within touching distance. For the past 8 years I have spent “twixmas” spending some time to pause and reflect on the year that has been, and how I might live the year to come based on my experiences, insight, and learning.
All in all, 2019 was a “good year”. When I cast an eye over my review of the year at the end of 2018, I see how I have, on the whole, stayed true to my wishes for 2019. I wanted to settle and consolidate; I wanted to trim back and relinquish some commitments and not take on new things. The “only” thing counter to that intention was becoming a Vajrayana student - but with a tried and tested faith on my Buddhist path (which I started in 2010), I have come to realise that some opportunities are presented to be taken with timing that is often not on our agenda.
I walked out of my house in the middle of the week and the first sight that registered was a tree surgeons van. They had parked beside one of the Elm trees along our street, and my heart sank: since moving to this street two years ago four Elms have been cut down, victims of Dutch Elm disease. This was to be the fifth. And I knew this was a pattern, the wind borne disease gradually marching down the street towards our end of the road - where two more sit. The “twins”, as I found out from the tree surgeons, were next. The tree surgeons shared my sadness - "we came in to this work because we love trees, and yet people often make us the bad guys". I have no idea when the twins will meet their fated end, but I make sure I pay homage to the them, nodding their way each time I leave the house and return.
Speaking to neighbours in the street, I am not alone in my sadness. Many of us bought houses here because of the tree lined character so typical of Victorian town planning. You can almost feel the 1900s here, the narrow road, the first motor cars. I can imagine the Elms in their full glory, lining the road like guards.
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