Today I drove North on the 1 from somewhere south of Pescadero. Though I watched the sun rise this morning, the winter sun’s light disorients me. It rises so far south and never gets high in the sky. The warm light doesn’t change through the hours and without any drama of high noon to punctuate the day, it sets. Just a few hours of one day on a windswept plain; horses, friendly wolf dogs, the constant rushing sound of the distant ocean, and the forested hills. There air was bright and hazy with moisture and the land felt out of time and space, something from my dreams.
Last night I watched the crescent of grandmother moon lower herself slowly into the ocean, taking the form of a bright orange glowing fire before finally disappearing into the distant crash and rush of ocean waves. A beautiful white horse whose white tail murmurs in the breeze of magic and running fast glances at me as he eats. I don’t want to leave this place. Returning even through the traffic lights of Half Moon Bay and Pacifica elicits uneasiness in me. When I hit SF traffic I had to turn the music off. I just sat in the halted stream of taillights staring up at the itunes Beatles billboard. Sometimes I just don’t think I belong in this world. It doesn’t make any sense to me that there are 100,000 cars stopped on the 101 at 6:30 on a Sunday. It doesn’t make any sense to me why people are honking. It doesn’t make any sense to me why I live here… instead of where integrity and shining strength rise into me effortlessly from the earth. I feel like I’m leaving my family, leaving what is good for me, leaving what makes me feel more whole, in exchange for madness and anonymity. I want my wildness, and I want my strength.
Yet I am only barely just getting acquainted with the ways and am an outsider there…It is not my home yet. It’s a sad feeling to realize I don’t feel at home here, but that I am not yet accepted there. Will I ever be good enough to hold things in those ways? Will I receive the teaching and the mentorship I so desperately long for and need? There is no way to know now. I want to feel it is coming, and I think that was what those words were given to me for, because I am strong enough and serious enough about this path for elders to tell me their concerns about my actions. Yet it also left me feeling like a small child with no wisdom and no ways. In spite of that, I know that with humility I can learn.
Getting honest is the only way I know to clear through something, to move past, to turn under the accumulated crap and hopefully come up with some good compost in the spring. This post is for me to see where I am right now in this winter of making relations with death.
“it matters not but for how is this choosing. it matters not but for how freely moving to the Dance of this of here of now I am no opposition. I need to be here in this instant”
Around here there is a rich scent of pine. I suppose that smell will forever remind me of the warmth of winter and Christmas time with my family, but it reminds me of something else too- something quiet and closer to me than the clothing on my body, being inside of that smell, being inside the protection of that spirit, of warrior kin, of interdependence, familiarity, of forgiving love and fierceness, patience, woven worlds, a teacher, breath….a relation to me and my family.
I look forward to the approaching time with family but something in me is strange, not wrong, just tapping at my back reminding me of something, to stay really aware right now. Listen up! it says.
When I grew up I thought my family was perfect. We were a happy family of four, I had both sets of grandparents alive and around all the time, and my mom’s sister had a family of four that lived a mile away too. Her kids were around the same age. The twelve of us three nuclear families were together for all family functions, for birthdays, holidays, etc. As a child I didn’t see the complexities of the relationships, the hardships of life, the times when people didn’t get along; and I never experienced death. To me our life was perfect.
My grandfather died 5 years ago. He was the first of my grandparents to pass, I miss him. Before that no one had ever died that I knew or cared about, but since then death has been around in my life. My Aunt Mary’s husband Jeff, Avi the daughter of some close family friends, my first dog Rudy, my Aunt Kelly’s partner, one of my best friends Amy, recently two friends from college, unrelated to each other, Becki and Sean, a friend’s mother, and the list goes on with people and relatives I don’t remember, and it will go on like this for the rest of our lives because death is certain for all of us. One childhood fictional perfection replaced with the real perfection of true life and freeing death.
The other day I caught myself forming this list in my mind, this list of deaths. I suppose it felt extraordinary. More and more though I have the experience that it’s not extraordinary, or unfortunate, at all. Talking to a friend yesterday he mentioned to me that in the jungle people die all the time and that when he visited there they told him that death didn’t mean the same thing to them as it does to us. They go out in the forest to get something or to hunt and any one of the many forces like poisonous animals or bugs, predators, falling trees, powerful rivers, etc, end their life. It happens all the time and while the families are sad, it isn’t a big big deal. That story didn’t surprise me, but through the contrast I suddenly understood my own cultured experience of death in a way I hadn’t seen it before.
In those jungle lives they’ve come up with ways of dealing with the changes in village life and ways of understanding what happens to a person when he or she dies. Everything doesn’t have to stop. They just wouldn’t be able to get on with life if that were the case. To live they have to stay busy with the business of taking care of life. For them, staying alive means taking risks that include death. Out there, where the death is? That’s where the life is too. That’s where the food is, that’s where the wood is and where the stuff to make homes, and clothes, and tools comes from. For us? We have spent an awful lot of energy eliminating risk from our daily food, water and shelter routines, I suppose so we can add it back in in other ways and die in car accidents or from some of the chemicals we’ve created to make our lives easier in other ways.
Anyway. I’ve begun to make relations with death and now I need to get on with living. About the jungle people, this is what I was told. It may or may not be completely accurate, but the thought at the time was enough to remind me that my way of relating to death is cultural. As a fortunate child I developed the expectation that no one needed to die until their physical bodies literally just quit. I felt entitled to the long lives of everyone around me. Even though much of what we do involves risk we seem to have forgotten that and then get surprised when death comes for us and our loved ones anyway.
Motor cycle and car accidents, cancers, and other calamities happen whether you forget about them or not.
Suffering loss is deep and hard. But no one is entitled to a life without it. In fact it must be in some way that experiencing death brings us to some grace, some touch on the pulse of life, some time where the veil is thinned and we experience the part of ourselves we may have avoided, our own peaceful mortality that this way comes.