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Thursday, December 13

Life List

Take a notebook and a pen. Turn off your phone, or at least mute it. Look out the window. Better yet, step outside. 

How do you define life? 

This is not an easy question to answer, but there isn't a deadline. Defining and redefining life takes a lifetime, in all it's tattered glory. 

I took these pictures in mid-autumn, when everything is dying. Death makes us more conscious of life. It's a powerful reminder our time is not infinite. We're allegedly the only creatures to know we're dying. I'm not sure this is true. Trees strike me as possessing great wisdom. How can we know what they know? One thing is certain, they'll be standing long after we're gone. 

These trees belonged to Winston Churchill. His estate is a few miles from where I live, on England's Kent/Surrey border. Now this land belongs to The National Trust. People visit from all over the world. They seem mostly interested in the house and studio. I come for the land, not the history lesson.

Standing at the water's edge, tears slide down my face. They are as familiar as my voice. I am a woman who knows how to cry silently, in the stillness of an astonishingly beautiful autumn afternoon.

This is the place I used to stroll, hand-in-hand, with Richard. We picnicked here. And gathered blackberries and elderflowers for pies and fritters. We often came for walks, between surgeries and chemo. Briefly, we surrendered our sorrow to bluebells and black swans; painted ladies; beehives, the kitchen garden, an amusing cat, and highland cattle. Now I come alone. I prefer to pick at my pain in solitude.

After I wrote my life list numerous times, I committed it to the rigors of design. Design allows me to pretend I'm in control. Same for photography. Chartwell, the name of this beautiful place, looks quite different in someone else's hands. This is how I choose to show it, more natural than it is in real life.

Within minutes of finishing my list, I realized it wasn't finished. It can never be finished. That's the whole point of life. What matters today may not matter at all tomorrow. Our priorities and values change as we change. Whoever said, "Nothing in life is certain except change," got it right. Change is the only constant.

One of the things I accidentally left off my list is loneliness. Life is lonely. Anyone who says otherwise hasn't lived enough in their own skin. A partner, a family, children, a dog, is no insurance from loneliness. Quite the opposite. You can be your most lonely, lying beside your love, at 3:00 in the morning. 

What's your life list look like?

Consider writing your definition, starting with the words, Life is . . . 

If you're partnered, or are part of a family, you might want to invite others to join in.

Think about creating some kind of multi-media art, communicating  your vision of life. Try your hand at a collage using photos, images from magazines, or off the internet, and other bits of visual symbolism important to you.  

This might turn out to be one of the most important lists you'll make. For me, it's a visual way of shaping my life, while reminding myself of what's important.