Sitting on the border of Italy and Switzerland waiting to board the Bernina Express, I recalled a former self eating a peaceful lunch surrounded by mountains, soaking in the tranquility of the scene in whole-wheat-bread-and-cheese bliss. Like every person entering this last stage of life, I find myself astounded. Cliché though it be, I wonder “How is it possible that that young man was eating that lunch almost 50 years ago?!!!”
Yet so it was. The year was 1973 and I was 22 years old traveling to Europe for the first time with the Antioch College Chorus. So much life in-between stored in the neurons, muscles and bones of this body, the accumulated stories of both constant travel and a long settled life in San Francisco. Even though the calendar and mirrors make it clear that the person then and the person now are most definitely not the same, inside they most certainly are. And though the outside differences— loss of hair, white hair, a bit more bulk and the tracks of life’s stories told in wrinkled skin and their weight present in sagging parts— are real, I’m deeply grateful that this old body can still walk eight miles a day, bike ride 25 or 30, sit on the floor—and get up again! The mind is every bit as sharp and robust, enlarged by a thousand or so books, thousands of pages of writing journals, articles, blogs, books, Crostics, conversations, observations. And the heart? Every bit as tender and open to feeling the full range of emotion, vulnerable to being broken and strong enough to stand up after being knocked down.
So here I still am, almost a half-century later, poised to enter the Switzerland of the Heart, where the riches of joyfully lived experience are secure in the banks earning interest, the warring factions of self are brought together in a peacemaking Geneva Convention, the yodels sung from all those years ago are still echoing in the mountains. In the place where the majesty of the Matterhorn meets the delicacy of the alpine flower, where the tools of artful living are neatly gathered in the Swiss army knife, where the precision of the clocks is joined with the timelessness of Heidi’s long, ambling days with her grandfather.
There will be no future self 50 years hence remembering this one and that carries some sadness. Yet it also colors each moment with its true significance and reminds me to savor more attentively, love more deeply, live more fully, in the Switzerland of the Heart.