Ancestral Guidance

As I watched my Aunt Pauline gear up for her 90th birthday skydive, I looked at her thin, frail body and wondered whether she would make it back in one piece, or at all. Awed and anxious, I marveled at her willingness to do something so risky, something I, many years her junior, would definitely not attempt. After she landed, she said, smiling, it was ‘awesome.’

Pauline at 90 ready for skydive

Feisty, direct and funny, Pauline had a sharp mind, always curious about ideas, people, and events. She read widely and avidly, and enjoyed music, film and theater. Even as she aged she was fiercely independent. When my partner and I visited her last year, she insisted on picking us up at the airport.  She was 92 at the time, and just 3 weeks past some serious surgery. Despite numerous phone calls during which I tried to dissuade her, she insisted. And I realized that, if Pauline had her mind made up, that was that. So she picked us up and drove to her house on the complex of busy freeways in San Diego with great skill and confidence. I could not have done as well.

Pauline’s independence was matched by her love for family. She had one child, my cousin Joni, and over the years became a kind of mother to me, my sister and my many first cousins. Her ‘lived’ family was very large—many of us staying in touch and visiting regularly. She was happiest when the ‘extra’ bedroom in her home was in use. And it very often was.

As I think of what was so very special about Pauline, I think about the Hindu goddess Kali. She’s the one who is generally pictured as wild-looking—wild hair, skulls around her neck, often wielding a sword and with her tongue sticking out. Let me make it clear that Pauline never looked Kali-like. She was always well coiffed, neatly dressed, nails beautifully manicured. In fact, I’m certain that if Pauline had ever met Kali she would have suggested, nicely, of course, that she do something about the hair.

Kali

But Kali, in addition to being fierce and tough, symbolizes a kind of liberation. She encourages us to embrace all parts of ourselves and not to be limited by narrow assumptions of who we are. As Sally Kempton says in one of my favorite Yoga Journal articles, How to Be Fierce:

In pointing you toward those parts of yourself that you have rejected, feared, or ignored, she inspires you to transform your identity over and over again, letting go of the old rigid ideas of who you are, stretching your emotional range, your mind, and life itself in delicious and liberating ways.

By both her example and her words, Pauline inspired me and many others to get beyond our fears so that we could lead our lives in delicious and liberating ways. On this Thanksgiving, I am especially grateful for the blessing of my Aunt Pauline, such an amazing guide to an engaged life, lived fiercely and lovingly.

[Pauline passed away after a brief illness on November 13, 2012. A video of her 90th birthday skydive, produced for Belgian television, is here.]

 

 

 

This entry was posted in Aging, Gratitude, Kali, Skydiving, Tantra yoga philosophy., Thanksgiving. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Ancestral Guidance

  1. Joni says:

    That was absolutely beautiful Karen.

  2. Katie Shults says:

    What a wonderful elder you’ve had in your life. I am sorry for your loss. All love.

    • Karen says:

      Thank you, Katie. I love the term ‘elder,’ and feel blessed that I have had such a special one in my life. One of the reasons that Pauline was so affecting as an elder is that she was without pretense or arrogance, and masterful at humor.

  3. Marsha says:

    A beautiful reminder of the richness of life and all that is possible. In Judaism one often refers to the departed by saying “may his/her memory be a blessing” and this certainly will be so for Pauline. My heart goes out to you, Karen, for your immediate loss but I know she will always be with you.

  4. Rita A Lazarou says:

    I believe it was Abraham Lincoln that said: “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It is the life in your years.”
    What an amazing woman. What an amazing spirit.
    May her memory be eternal.
    I am so very sorry for your loss.
    Love & peace
    Rita

  5. MARILYN AND JERRY SAXE says:

    KAREN YOU SO WELL DESCRIBED YOUR AUNT PAULINE. I WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT WE WERE DEAR FRIENDS WHO SHARED MARCH 21 AS BOTH OF OUR BIRTHDAYS, AND WE ALWAYS CELEBRATED TOGETHER. ALSO FOR SEVERAL YEARS I CALLED HER EVERY MORNING TO SEE IF SHE WAS OK, SHE WOULD ALWAYS SAY I’M FINE. SHE WAS A LUCKY LADY, DROVE A CAR , PLAYED BRIDGE, WENT TO THE CASINO, LIVED ALONE UNTIL 2 1/2 MOS AGO, WE SHOULD ALL BE SO LUCKY. – WE MISS YOU PAULINE.

    • Karen says:

      Dear Marilyn and Jerry,

      Thank you for your comments. Like you, I am awed by how independent and active Pauline was for how long. Luck was part of it, for sure, but I think that her positive attitude about life and her determination to remain independent were just as important. Not only was she always ‘fine,’ but she was really grateful to wake up every morning.

      –Karen

  6. lisaschamess says:

    lovely–and on the cusp of your great birthday, you should know that you have inspired me to take up wholly new passions and tasks after 50–which I will be in September.

    Namaste, Karen

    • Karen says:

      Thank you so much, Lisa. I’m moved by what you say, and realize that, at 70 (the birthday was in October; the big celebration is this week), what matters most to me is to help, touch, even inspire others to be fully themselves. I can’t wait to hear about your post-50 plans.

      Much love,

      Karen

  7. Josna Rege says:

    Somehow I missed this wonderful post and have only just read it and watched the video of your Aunt Pauline sky-diving on her 90th birthday. I can see why she has been and continues to be so important to you. Her spirit lives on in you, and, from reading your blog, in many other people who have come in contact with her, who have ever stayed in that extra bedroom. Looking forward to seeing you again and getting back to regular yoga.

    • Karen says:

      Thank you, Josna. I do experience Pauline as often being ‘with me.’ She had quite a sense of humor. Just recently I had the impulse to phone her and tell her about something funny I had just learned. I could hear her laughter.

      See you soon, Josna. Maybe tomorrow?

      Karen

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