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Shepherd Bliss

How Falling Down Can Lead to
Waking Up Learning from Loss and Pain

Feb 28, 2018

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By Shepherd Bliss

The organic Kokopelli Farm, which I have owned for over two-dozen-years, has been my home, as well as my main work, identity, and love. Then I fell into a badger hole, covered by grass, on Jan. 15 this year. I crawled painfully uphill back into the house, feeling like a baby. This unwelcome anniversary will remain in my now 73-year old body and memory.

The fall plunged me into deep reflections and life-changing behavior. “You must change your life” is a poetry line that kept emerging as I spent hours each day in bed, no longer able to provide “the farmer’s shadow” with daily walks on the land, so essential to good farming.

Growing up is not always easy, even for elders. I’m closer to my death date than my birth date. Maturing can be sparked by a sudden, unexpected incident, like falling. What to do, other than feel sorry for one’s self? How can one turn a loss into a learning experience for one’s self and others?

I began to lighten my load. I decided to give away hundreds of books, DVDs, records, furniture, luggage, dog things, etc., which I had been collecting for decades.

“I call that ‘essentializing,’ commented Alexandra Hart of Transition Sebastopol’s monthly Elders Salon, which has been meeting since 2010. “Aging makes one slower, so it means simplifying and letting go of stuff.”

“We’ve noticed in the Elders Salon that loss almost inevitably brings some kind of gain in its wake,” Hart added.

The smiles of friends and strangers as they load up books and other things, taking them on a journey into their lives, delight me. I’m even asked to autograph some of the 24 books to which I have contributed, reminding me that I can at least still write.

The fall became a blessing in disguise. Friends brought me chicken soup, other food, and helped lessen my isolation. I listened to their stories of having fallen, being sick, and experiencing excruciating pain. I appreciate living in small town Sebastopol, with its caring community, even more.

“Loss can be conceptualized along three intersecting axes: loss of control, loss of identity, and loss of relationships,” writes Dr. Barbara Sourkes in her book “The Deepening Shade: Psychological Aspects of Life-Threatening Illness.”

My identity as a farmer is important. I farm most days of the year. After the fall, I have been unable to farm for weeks. Among my losses have been many basic body functions and control. I have also changed my self-image and body-image. Being more dependent on others is a stretch.

“When I’m physically drained, I often don’t feel like talking,” a client told Dr. Sourkes. As an introvert, though also a public person, I sometimes feel the same. Some friends have worn me down by their needs to talk, talk, talk. “I’m all talked out,” I say at times, which can make me feel like the bad guy.

I have been sharing my fears with friends, some of whom report their own stories. “You strike a familiar chord of vulnerability that we all face,” observed body-worker Jeff Rooney. “I work with many people for whom a big theme is falling and fear of falling. Falling is often a step away toward dying.”

Humans are so “fragile,” my brother Steve Bliss reminded me about we two-footeds. I am actually now three-footed, since I walk with a cane, but that will eventually change. “Tomorrow’s a new day,” my brother reminded me, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote.

This learning experience evolves. So where do I go from here? I’m not sure. I feel suspended between the no-longer and the not-yet.

As the elder Doug von Koss recently quoted a Sufi saying, “We have three days to live, and two of them are gone.”

Dr. Shepherd Bliss - 3sb@comcast.net is a retired college teacher, farmer, and writer.

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