Greedy For Life

If the universe is full of infinite possibilities, does that mean we are infinitely possible too? I’d like to think so, but it doesn’t seem feasible. We seem to be bounded by our genetics, the way our brains are wired, our very thoughts. Can we go beyond such constraints to something else?

Working within natural laws, we can change ourselves to a certain extent. We can get a new job. We can move to a different location. We can divorce or remarry. We can become thinner, fitter, stronger, more serene. We can even look and feel younger, but we cannot actually be younger. Nor can we be anything but what we are — whatever that is. I suppose it’s a good thing our basic nature doesn’t change. It would make life intolerable if every wizardmorning when we woke up we discovered we were something different — a butterfly or a dragon, a flower or a star.

Still, in a universe full of possibilities, there has to be more possibilities than we see or even fathom. But how does one find (or create) these possibilities? I realize that wanting to be something other than ourselves is wasting who we are, but still, there has to be a way of becoming more of what we are, of reaching a greater potential.

I have such a desire to be “other,” though I don’t have any clear concept of what that means. Wiser, of course, and more in tune with the universe. Transcendent, maybe. Able to sense that which I cannot now see.

At the very least, I’d like to be able to just go along for the ride, see where life takes me without worry or fear. But even such a small transcendence seems improbable — I’m a worrier (thinker!) by nature and genetics, and fear is not just a mental state but physical reaction, a body response to danger, and we are such physical creatures. And anyway, aren’t worry and fear part of the experience of life, just as grief is?

Maybe there is more life on the horizon for me than I can now see, and all this cogitation is but a way of occupying myself until that life arrives. Or maybe the cogitation will help get me there by opening up my mind and soul to more, like a flower opening to the sun.

I’ve never been a greedy person — never really wanted much, especially not things — but now I see there is growing.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Finding a New Life that Fits Properly and Looks Good

dancingIn a conversation with a friend about my father, who is still going strong at 96, I said, “I take after my mother, which is good because there is no way I want to live to such an advanced age, particularly since I won’t have a widowed daughter to come stay with me. It’s kind of spooky thinking of having to grow old alone.”

She said, “You never know what will happen. Maybe a new love will drop into your life. I can imagine you at some writer’s festival and a distinguished stud with salt and pepper hair and a sweet smile flirts with you. He asks for your number and the next thing the rest of us know, Pat’s out dancing and dining every Saturday night and she’s suddenly submitting romance novels for publication…”

I laughed. “I love the ‘sweet smile’ part. Who knows, with or without a stud, I might go out dancing every Saturday night. I desperately need a new life.”

She responded, “I think you need a new life too. I’m afraid you’re just wilting away. So — how do you get a new life? What do you want your new life to be?”

And that’s where the conversation stalled. How do you get a new life? It’s not as if you can go to the mall and search the aisles at Lifes ‘R’ Us until you find a new life that fits properly and looks good. (Though that does sound like an interesting concept.)

What-we-can-become is dependent on whether what-we-are is an integral part of our genetics, keeping us always “us,” or if we are infinitely mutable and can become whatever we wish to be despite our inborn proclivities. In other words, can we really get a new life or are we always “us”?

For me to go out dancing every Saturday night, I’d need a personality transplant. I’ve always been drawn to quiet activities, such as dinner and conversation that dances from one topic to another. If somehow I did overcome my natural inclination for such sedentary pursuits, where would I go dancing? I’m too old for nightclubs and too young for senior citizens groups.

Still, I will need a new life of some sort. My father will not live forever, and I will need to decide where to go and what to do. And the truth is, I haven’t a clue.

Current research by Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert shows that while we can see how much we have changed in the past, we never think we will change in future. (Hence that ill-advised tattoo you got when you were young and now wonder what you were thinking.) But this isn’t always true. I know how much I have changed in the past. I have a photo of me as a baby, and I can see the vast changes between me and that poor befuddled creature. I can also see how different I am today from what I was four years ago when I watched my life mate/soul mate’s slow descent into death, and I can see how different I am from what I was almost three years ago when grief catapulted me out of that shared life into a new one. I can extrapolate from those experiences of change that I will also drastically change in the future.

I always feel the same, of course. — just me. (There must be some sort of mechanism, like an internal gyroscope, that keeps us “us” no matter how we change.)

The point is that I cannot figure out now what I want my life to be when I am free to pursue that life because I don’t know who or what I will be at the time. Maybe by then, I’ll miraculously have developed grace and style, and will have become a dancing queen. Or not.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

Becoming Who I Need to Be

For a long time, I lamented that I hadn’t been changing, and I thought I should have been.

After the death of my life mate/soul mate, I was totally blindsided by grief. I’d lost my mother a couple of years previously, and a brother the year before that, so I thought I understood what grief was. Besides, I knew my mate was dying. We’d spent the last three years of his life disentangling our lives and severing the connection so we could go our separate ways — he to death, me to life alone. I truly thought I’d moved on, yet after he died, I experienced such agony and angst that it shattered me, my identity, my understanding of life . . . everything. An experience like that should change a person, yet month after month I remained . . . just me.

Now, two years and four months after his death, the changes are occurring on an almost daily basis. I’m still just me, but the person I am today is not the same as the one who screamed the pain of her loss to the uncaring winds. Nor am I the one so connected to another human being she still felt broken more than a year after his death. I left those women out in the desert somewhere. I’ve walked about 2,000 miles since he died, and a bit of that me evaporated with every step.

I am stronger than that person was, maybe even wiser, certainly more confident and open to whatever comes, willing to accept life on its own terms.

I no longer fear growing old alone as she did. I might not live to a great age, and if I do, I might not be alone, but even if I am, that woman will not be the me of today. She will older, used to dealing with the infirmities that come with age, perhaps even experienced in the ways of dying. She will have lived her life to the fullest of her ability, and might even be able to wake each morning feeling the joy of living one more day, no matter how painful. Or not. But the point is, I am not in that place today, and the person I am today will never be in that place. So there is no reason to be afraid.

For so long, I’ve been worried about what will happen to me now that I am alone. I worried that I’d become the crazy cat lady (sans cats) or the pathetic, lonely old woman that everyone whispers about (when they remember her at all). If I end up alone and lonely, so be it. I’ll be okay. I am quite comfortable with being alone. (I always was, to be honest. Grief skewed things, made me desperately fearful of loneliness.)

But I am not alone now. I have friends to go to lunch with, online friends to plan trips with, siblings to talk to now and again, an aged father to look after. I thought it would bother me no longer being part of a couple, but the other day at lunch when some women my age were talking about maybe meeting guys and falling in love again, I asked, “Why?” All of a sudden it seemed strange to want such a thing. Three of us had mates with compromised health, and now that they are gone, we are free to simply be. It’s not out of any loyalty to my deceased mate that I find myself unwilling to pursue a hypothetical relationship right now, but out of loyalty to me.

And that brings me to the biggest change of all. It bothered me that no matter what happened, I was always just me. Now I see that as a good thing. No matter what happens in my life, no matter what challenges I face, I will always be there, becoming who I need to be, even if it takes longer than I think it should.