The Beginning and the Ending

Mesha Becker, a linguistic professor, poet, hospice volunteer, and mother of two, wrote an article in Shambhala Sun magazine about taking her newborn to an assisted living facility. Her observations on the mysterious kinship between the very old and the very young are heart-warming and deeply moving.
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“Since we started visiting Mrs. Everley four months ago, Olivia has been growing in all the myriad ways babies do: smiling, cooing, holding her head up, rolling over, babbling, and now sitting up and grabbing things. And Mrs. Everley has been un-growing in the ways of dying. In the past few weeks her mind and body have edged further toward frailty.

I wonder if today’s visit will be our last.

I don’t question Mrs. Everley’s enthusiasm over Olivia, but I confess it surprises me. It’s as if Olivia channels a line of adrenaline straight to Mrs. Everley’s tired-out heart. Maybe Olivia does have magical powers. Maybe all children do. They who have so recently entered through the doorway of life have the power to forge a profound connection to those who are about to make their exit. New skin touching old skin, two beings passing one another on the great highway of life. I can conjure a soft-focus image of their private conversation: The elder asks the younger, ’What is it like on the other side?’ The younger smiles and coos.

Or maybe Mrs. Everley is simply charmed by youth’s vivacity and fascinated by its unspent possibilities. For Olivia’s part, I doubt she is actually aware of what she is seeing before her: a long ribbon of life now fraying. She encounters this dying woman with the same emphatic curiosity she does everything else in her rapidly expanding world. In some sense, their affinity is to be expected. They have much in common: few teeth, little hair, incontinence. A close proximity to laughter and to tears. An uncertain degree of awareness of where they are and why they are there. Neither of them will remember these visits. How wonderful that they should know one another.”

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