Friday, September 12, 2014

On bigness and smallness and being finite

(c)2014 Laura Packer
Independence Mine State Park
Home. Work. Friends. Family.
Home. Work. Friends. Family.

In our everyday lives it can be easy to forget just how big the world is. Just how small we are. And just how finite we are compared to the larger universe around us.

When I was 26 I had cancer. That seems very long ago and inconsequential now. It wasn't a big deal; I had surgery, I was fine. But it left an emotional impact and I needed to understand who I was in this world that had made it so very clear that I was mortal. I went to England. I looked at things that had been in the world much longer than I and would remain long after I was gone. It helped. I had a better understanding of my own smallness and mortality but within a context of a world that continues. A world of story and mountains and rain. Things that endure and are as close to infinite as we can easily understand. That was enough to get me over the shock of my own finite nature and back into my life.

This year has been a barrage of the finite. The mortal. Death and endings. (Some will want me to write and new beginnings here, but I'm not there yet. This is where I am now.) The love of my life was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died. My business is faltering because of my inattention as I've been far more focused first on nursing Kevin and then attending to my own grief. My understanding of my own passions and priorities, the ways I have defined myself for years, has changed. This week a family member succumbed to lung cancer. Other family members are contending with illnesses of age and mortality. It's been a rough year.

Losing Kevin means the bedrock to my world has been destroyed. For those of you who never met him, Kevin was a big, strong man with tremendous presence. He seemed like a foundation of the world. He was the foundation of my world. A friend commented to me recently that if Kevin could become ill and die then we all can, that he just seemed so sturdy. So he was. So he did. And my foundation is gone.

In losing my bedrock I again found myself drawn to reminders that the world goes on. That I will die, that everyone I know is finite but that doesn't mean the world is finite.

I have always been in love with the world. Much of my writing and speaking life is essentially pointing out the majesty of the small and large, reminding myself and maybe others that the world is. The world is. Knowing the world goes on in spite of Kevin's death, in spite of my eventual death, in spite of human stupidity, helps.

So I sought out bigness beyond human scale. I recently spent some time in Alaska, the biggest place I could think of that would be accessible. I've posted photos elsewhere on this blog.

I stared out into the ocean. To the horizon. I watched fog banks close in and fade out. I watched the sun set into the water and the darkness surround us. I saw tiny lights in the night, human habitation in the midst of vast wilderness. I listened for the breath of whales, the call of migrating cranes. I climbed trails into towering mountains that were dwarfed by the mountains beyond. I looked up and saw snow. I heard the voice of the glacier, thousands of years in the making. I walked amongst decaying buildings, being taken back by the land. I crouched and was awed by lichen, mushrooms, moss. By this flower. By that bird. I was in the world, of it, and reminded of my very finite nature. The mountains don't care that I will die. The ocean continues to beat even though Kevin will not swim in it again.

None of this made my sorrow less acute, my longing for him any smaller. None of it made it easier to breath or walk through this world without him. But it did remind me that this is what it is to be in the world. We have only a moment. We must treasure what we have.

I promised Kevin 'til death do we part. I kept my promise. And the world is keeping its promise to me, revealing itself in wonder. In bigness. In smallness. And in the infinite.

(24 weeks. Breathless without you and yet still breathing.)

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License


  1. Laura, I didn't know. I'm sorry. You have touched some deep places inside yourself -- not always pretty, not always comforting.
    I'm glad you went to Alaska and gazed and remembered that "The world is." Nothing more profound to say than that. Nothing more important.

  2. Laura, I can relate to your post so very well. I went to Kamchatka peninsula in the end of this August (my husband died in March). I also came to the conclusion that 'the world is'. But the wilderness also helped me to understand that actually I can live my life. I am different, not sure yet, though, who exactly. More humble, I guess. Accepting that the world is. Thank you for your beautiful posts!


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