School for the Second Half of Life: Cohort Four’s Graduation Ceremony

By Marie Boyle

Posted on

School for the Second Half of Life Cohort Four’s Graduation Ceremony 12/10/22

On September 18, 2021, we each arrived at the Mercy by the Sea Retreat Center, found our way to the Dempsey Room, and spoke our names for the first time into this sacred circle. We traveled here from five states and each one of us had answered a call,for our own unique reasons, not fully realizing where this journey would lead or end. The recommended booklist offered clues for what would lie ahead: The Grace in Aging, What Are Old People For?, Happiness is a Choice You Make, Field of Compassion, Braiding Sweetgrass, The Hidden Life of Trees, The Grace in Dying, and so many more. In the words of Mary Oliver, “we didn’t want to end up simply having visited this world. And when it’s over, we didn’t want to wonder if we have made of our lives something particular and real.1 This hope and desire caused each of us to enroll in this School for the Second Half of Life at this particular point in time. This sacred circle has enriched our lives ever since.

Our senses were treated each month with the cool sea air and comforting sounds of the waves along the Mercy Center shoreline. We were blessed and grateful for the beauty of this place, and we were welcomed into the building each Saturday morning by the most majestic of beech trees. We explored the many nooks and crannies within the Mercy Center. For three semesters, we showed up, learned more about one another in our small group discussions, and more and more about our own hopes and dreams. Our group took on its own identity. We forged friendships and we looked forward to our monthly gatherings with excitement. All along our path, we were gifted with the wisdom, grace, and patience of three very special women. Joan, Leslie, and Sandy: We will be forever grateful for your creative insights and support, and for sharing this pilgrimage with us.

We spent time looking back at our own spiritual journeys and contemplated the ecological aspects of our lives. We learned new practices: The beginner’s mind, contemplative dialog, delighting in the sabbath, spending sacred time in nature, the Daily Examen, the uneasiness of shadow work, and the value in setting intentions for each new day. We sought the virtues of the elder: Alertness, openness, curiosity, and self-compassion. We learned to acknowledge our losses, knowing that brokenness allows light to enter. We contemplated maturity and how it requires us to embrace the past, present, and future all at once. Sometimes we found words for what was difficult to describe and sometimes we sat in silence.

We were moved by so many powerful poets and their words echoed our own hopes and fears about the work still needing attention in our lives. We learned how being human was much like a guest house2 and how rivers have much to teach us, and how eventually, the rivers become the ocean.3 And we learned some simple instructions for living a life: “Pay attention, be astonished, and tell about it.”4

Today, we gather to celebrate this new way of being and all that we have experienced at this place. Our theme for today’s graduation ceremony is “Viriditas,” which originates from the Latin for “green” and “truth.” For Hildegard, the “vitality” that we see in flourishing fruit trees and lush gardens is also inherent in each of us. It’s that driving force that nudges us to choose growth over drought by pursuing that which feeds our souls--despite how difficult this may be. Just as a gardener tills the soil, removes debris, and applies protective mulch to ensure a fruitful garden, so can we use tools to unearth that which holds us back and to nourish ourselves physically and spiritually for better growth and healing. So, although our time at the Mercy Center is ending, our time for “blooming” and growth has only just begun. In the blended words of John O’Donohue and Mary Oliver: Let us “Unfurl ourselves into the grace of what is beginning.... and awaken our spirits to adventure.... for our souls sense the world that awaits5 our “one wild and precious life.”6

1 When Death Comes by Mary Oliver
2 The Guest House by Rumi
3 The River Cannot Go Back by Kahlil Gibran
4 Sometimes by Mary Oliver
5 For a New Beginning by John O'Donohue
6 The Summer Day by Mary Oliver