This I Believe

Charleen - Seattle, Washington
Entered on June 21, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: legacy, purpose
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I believe in the future, the story with an open ending. That part of History which runs off the right side of the page, marked with an arrow. The part defined by my absence.

In this week before my birthday, I took my rotation in overseeing the toddlers in my Quaker Meeting. As I played with the children, just the age of my own grandchildren if I had any, I envisioned this small community of 1 – 3 year olds, thirty years down the line, in an executive huddle about whether their older Quaker member was still competent to handle the nursery. Did she really, at age 85+, still command the mental presence and acuity to oversee such a precious and active small group? They were talking about me with their own children, the future of their future. They were concerned that I would be hurt, feel cast off, interpret this as an expression of diminished value. They had watched me through the years tend to this smallest community within our Quaker Meeting. Each of them carried dim memories of warmth and structure and a big person who said things so silly that even they didn‘t believe.

I struggled to reach them through the vision, to tell them that this was all right. I had been honored to be their guardian on this limited basis, I would be just as honored to be an assistant, or even just an old lady in a chair on occasional Sundays. My investment had paid off.

And through this vision Berthold Brecht spoke to me in the lines of one of his later poems, written in a hospital bed shortly before his death.


Gelang es mir, mich zu freuen

Alles Amselgesang nach mir auch.” **

“Now I was able to find joy

In all the bird songs which would also come after.”

Like Brecht, I wanted to celebrate the life which comes after my death.

Today, on my 56th birthday, life is no longer about me. With each year passing I become more embedded in history, while the story moves forward, the future talking itself daily into the present and further into the past. Now the focus goes to the ones who are still in the flow of their own personal narration, ending open. And that is where I need to be if I choose to remain relevant to the present, a community asset until I die. My remaining days need to actively prepare for the time when I am no longer there, the future beyond my future.

The fact of my death, today, tomorrow or in thirty years, in no way diminishes my excitement for the story of the future. What does happen next, and next and next, ad infinitum until the end of time? This is seasoned by the knowledge that the future is not a given. There is an alternative.

Even within my own lifetime we have witnessed moments that dance on the edge of no-future. Will we recognize the moment that carries with it enough momentum to propel us over the edge into the apocalypse, the moment when we leave time? This is the ending where the paper, the one with the timeline and the arrow on the right edge, gets destroyed, obliterated, annihilated. This is the ending that I do not want to know, the one beyond my imagination.

So instead of even trying to picture it, I will remain excited about the story which keeps going, the one with the open ending. It’s going to kill me, not knowing how the story ends, but that is the future…

** Als ich im weißen Krankenzimmer der Charitè