Life and Death

There’s a great tree in my backyard, it’s been standing a long time, likely before my house was built.  The tree is filled with leaves, awash with green against a blue sky.  There are 2 large holes in this tree, deep holes, and a few weekends ago, I cleaned them out and drilled a small hole through the bottom so that collected rain water could drain away.  When I reached my gloved hands inside (the holes are about head height) I was taken aback by my discovery.  The rotted tree smelled of earth.  The wood inside had composted nearly to dirt, and each handful hosted a number of fattened earth worms.  My backyard tree is slowly dying.

When I moved into this house, the people who lived here before me stated that anything I planted in the ground would grow.  As spring has lazily emerged I see that their assertion was true, everything here is alive and is growing profusely, more so than I’ve ever seen before.   The soil encompassing this house is fertile and rich, it’s quite magical, all of the varied species that flourish – I have a flower stem coming out of a lily plant that is higher than my outstretched arms and just as thick as one of them.  In considering the magic of all things green and growing here, it struck me that this grand tree is decomposing from the ground up.  I had this imagining of  her many enormous roots turning from a resource of food for the tree, into a resource of rich food for the soil and ultimately all of the other species that are planted here.  As she surrenders her own life, she deeply nourishes the lives around her, lily and willow, geranium, lavender, bamboo,…all abundant for this mighty tree’s energy and surrender.

I think of my Grandmama, Mary.  She sipped her last breath in August at 94 years old.  I had her for 35 years of my own life.  Today I am 36.  Someone said to me in jest, “you know from this point on, we’re really all just dying”, and it is true that  I am gradually parting with unwrinkled skin, a scratch that heals in a day, eyes that see clearly, joints that don’t creak.  I am, along with the rest of us, slowly progressing toward death.  Today, it’s not a morbid thought, I feel fantastic, joyful and grateful, vibrant and full of life.  I saw my Grandmother in this way, deeply grateful, vibrant, and full of life.  While she was here, she poured herself into me, sharing her enthusiasm, her affection, her secrets, her wisdom.  I was romanced by our connection, each time I would leave her presence, I’d find myself feeling full, energetic, connected, peaceful.  She’s been gone 9 months now, and while I grieve her loss, I’ve also been very much aware of how close to her I’ve felt.  When my hands are in the earth or I’m walking about in nature, I feel her, as close as my own breath, as close as the hummingbird that whirls about my hair.  Of late, I’ve been feeling as though the absence of her body has increased the energetic connection I sense from her, within me, around me.  I feel a quiet strength and power residing within.

On this day of celebrating my own 36 years of life, I connect with gratitude for all I have expereienced, all that has shaped me, and all that I have been given.  I connect with the unity of life and death, that for as much as they are inseperable, they also give themselves, one to the other.  My tree is living and dying all at once, but it is through her dying that she imparts nourishment to all of the life around her.  And so it was (and is) with Grandmama.  And in this culture where the unknown of death is feared and rarely dealt with (until we’ve nearly arrived), I celebrate death this day, I celebrate it as life, as an outpouring of one life for the nourishment of many lives.  I celebrate, believing that the secret of death lies in the heart of life – just as much as the secret of life lies in the heart of death.  I am nourished.  I am full. Om shanti shanti shanti.

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