Interview: Overwhelming Beauty — and Being OK, Dying – Terry Patten Interviews Stephen Jenkinson

Spontaneous poet, culture activist, and shamanic bard Stephen Jenkinson joins Terry to explore the totally disarming ordeal of bearing witness to death up close — both our individual mortality and our collective mortality. They also drop into felt contact with Terry’s present, uncertain situation — recently on his 70th birthday, Terry was suddenly informed that there was probably metastatic cancer in his lungs and he spent five nights in the hospital undergoing a series of tests. Now, almost a month later, there is still no clarifying diagnosis, prognosis, or treatment plan, so he’s learning to be in radical not-knowing, returning to the miracle of this moment, and this breath.

Stephen meets Terry in his characteristic uncompromising way, with tenderness, unflinching clarity, and humor. They wonder together about the overwhelming nature of beauty, and the vividness that dying well can bring to the living. Ultimately, they both confess that after decades and careers of practice, neither of them claim to be fully prepared for their own dying process. Its nature is to break us open. Even so, they both deepen in grief and gratitude, and learn to open unconditionally. As Stephen says, we can “get better at missing it” before life is gone.

Stephen Jenkinson is an activist, teacher, author, farmer and performing poet. He is the founder of the Orphan Wisdom School in Tramore, Canada and the author of four books, including Die Wise and Come of Age: The Case of Elderhood in a Time of Trouble. He’s also the subject of a documentary film Griefwalker. In 2015, Stephen created Nights of Grief & Mystery with Canadian singer-songwriter Gregory Hoskins. With a 5-piece band, they have mounted international tours and released three albums, most recently DARK ROADS and ROUGH GODS. They hope to begin performing again in June — make contact on his website to see if you might be able to attend. Most recently, a four-part livestream speaking series, A Generation’s Worth, was presented in Winter 2020.