In a time where it is easy to lose one’s faith in humanity and the simple gratitude for life, I am reminded of the many ways we celebrate our faith, our belief in goodness, and the power of this universe to shelter the evolution of our love for one another. Some find purpose in making time to help others. Others find fulfillment in prayer or solitude. Nowadays, I find myself restless and unable to focus what gives my life meaning. I look for things to clean and people to hold, to support, and to talk to. At times I worry that the periods of quiet in my life foretell of my becoming irrelevant and unnecessary.
As an empty nester, I feel like a parent in absentia. As a spouse, I’ve become an explorer into my self discovery. As an American, I’ve become an activist in the battle between privilege and achievement. My life these days seems full of planning and checklists. What do they say? Life is what happens when you’re making plans. However, even among the checklists and the schedules, I strive to live my life in mindfulness. Even in midlife, I still find myself caught between the lessons of the past and the planning for the future. It is for this reason I build my personal altar. It is here that I can maintain the focus on my life, the important things, and my daily midlife journey.
I am not a church goer. I do not pray at an altar or kneel in reverence at temple. I have, however, found great peace in creating a personal altar of sacred things. My things. My mementos. Periodically adding items of value and meaning to me and lessons in gratitude they represent in my life. A button from my father’s jacket to remind me of how a negative memory of someone close to you can change over time and become the good thing you need it to be. A sand dollar collected from the beach in the city I love that reminds me that I can simply close my eyes to remember the wet sand and cool breeze of my youth. A sandalwood scented candle placed in front of me is ready to light with the intent of breathing in my joy and breathing out my gratitude.
This altar tethers me to the choices I make in my life and how I want to matter. I don’t like feeling lost. I don’t like feeling angry at a cruel world and at he ignorance of others. At times, it is difficult to remain hopeful when there is so much ugliness and misfortune. However, in spite of it all, I find myself swinging between the times of awe and thankfulness for the moments of wonder and beauty I encounter in my life and the sorrow at the inevitability of the destruction of our planet and all its creatures.
At this altar, I have my candle to light my path when it has grown dark. I have my dragonfly to remind me that natural beauty is appreciating the individual, not always comparing one to the brilliantly colored butterfly. I have mementos of my family that keep me focused on my love for them and how I can strive to always be a teacher, or a friend. All these things, and more, allow me to not become overwhelmed in the abundance of things. I live in the acknowledgement that while I am not responsible for the lives and actions of others, I can be humble and grateful for what I have. I can strive to make a difference in my midlife that will be just as good as making a difference as just a parent or wife.
How is your journey and what do you do to make your life matter? What lies at your altar?