Stephen Jenkinson on Closing Time /82

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In a manner as unique as water, Stephen Jenkinson uses English in ways that begin to polish off our clinging and confusion, that make the ancient in us sit up and listen, wide-eared. A piece of his magic is in illuminating where we have come from by masterfully tracing our language back down dark burrows to ancient roots. Etymologically, he teaches, to be awake is to be gathered into the web of consequence. “A” is an old English root for locating, as in “at,” or “of,” or “with.” A wake is a ceremony to honor the dead, and also what extends out after and before you as you move through water. Thus to be a-wake is to be with the recognition of the consequence of your movement, of your being. Growth untethered to consequence is cancer. We are approaching now the reckoning of our endeavor to outgrow our limits. Elderhood is a consequence of life’s limits. It is one of the original permaculture principles, edited away, that limitations create abundance.

It is in the nature of addiction to prescribe a solution for the addiction, Stephen says, which includes continuing to use. We are deeply addicted to the thing that got us here: a stratagem for relief. And what is it really that brought us to hunger, at almost any cost, for such relief? One of Stephen’s answers is the loss of elderhood. And it is another kind of relief entirely to bathe in how and what he teaches.

We are living through a time when there are more people dying, more creatures, more plants, more cultures, than ever before. We are surrounded by more death—and of course we feel that tremendous presence of death all around us. The debts of generations past have accrued to us, but not the wisdom. Our inheritance of obligation, of reciprocity, has broken. And we are left with the dying, but no understanding of how to be with it.

Your longing is one of the manifestations of your ancestry. A consequences of our abandonment is that we’ve lost all sense that we are longed for by our ancestry, too. A time before you is singing for you ~ a longing for home that becomes miscast as a search for freedom.

Music by Jess Williamson

Ayana YoungComment