You know those beautiful unexpected pictures I put in the post last time? I didn’t tell you something else that happened because it was so difficult. I’ve been thinking about it all week. On one hand I thought, “People’s lives are hard enough." And then I thought, “That’s precisely why I should say it, because it is the truth, and the truth is what people deal with.” It was unfair I thought, to go around in sunshine all the time, like beauty, beauty, blah, blah, blah and not say something that was important to the story of that evening.
So here it is. While I was taking my pictures the dogs kept working the same spot at the edge of Sachem Pond. They were breaking the ice around something and then they started tugging at it. They finally started pulling it out of the water. I saw what it was, a dead baby deer that was under the ice. I saw its delicate ribs and the darkening of the water and the mixture of flesh and bone and teeth exposed because its little body had been there for some time. I said, “Oh….no.” And I called Wilson and Molly and I loved them because this was very special to them but they left it for my sake.
I’ve asked myself about it because I said in another post that difficult things are also beautiful. I can’t say this was beautiful. I can say it was held in a beautiful night, but the actual sight was a shock and then sadness with a certain tender aspect.
All the time I keep holding the image in my mind... I keep returning to it. And it is not just for the deer, but for all of our difficult things…I keep thinking of my friends, many of whom have had recent losses, but it is also of all of our losses…the fact that they can even happen, the fact that life is made this way.
Now I’m thinking maybe I can show you something better than I can tell you. This is out of a series on some flowers I’ve been working on… just some ordinary flowers, just like any other flowers, but as beautiful as anything. If you look closely and especially at the second picture, you’ll see just one or two spots where the edges are curling. This iris is already dying. In fact, by the time I was done with the shoot, it was in pieces. I thought about getting new flowers and starting over, but I felt that the dying edge was also important, or that the flower was more because of it.
My friend Lisa, who has had her share of grief, says, “Everyone loses the same thing, which is everything.” And, “Sadness is never far from me.” and, “Death, when it comes… It teaches you what it is.” And then she goes out to live her heartfelt and honest and generous and courageous and exuberant life. (Her comments were part of long conversations we've had over the years. We've been through a lot together. I'm sure I don't have to tell you how important this good friend is in my life. She is, I believe, going to post a comment when I publish this blog. It will be worth reading as she is loving, articulate and wise.)
I can only say that I know it is difficult to find a person who isn’t grieving and that grief comes in many forms. There is grief like I have for my father, and as big as that is, I would say it is an easier type of grief. There is grief out of order or grief that leaves no place or no future or grief that includes the destruction of love or trust or hope or identity or history or dignity or faith in anything. I know that grief can be like waves or like fire or like a frozen lake or like falling. I know that answers and no answers come to each person in his or her own way and time.
I like to notice my breathing. I like to watch a breath going out and the next one coming after. I have lived my whole life like a watch dog and I like to notice that something is happening, that I don’t have to do it, that something is breathing my life for me. I find it restful, and encouraging, and the opposite of being separate from anyone or anything.
I also do my photography. If you haven’t noticed, I like it a lot. It’s become my way of living... to be out in nature… seeing… to cooperate by seeing and working with the things that are offered… to join life in this way. This is what I’ve come to stand on. It’s not just the beauty… it’s the implication of beauty. I feel if I want to understand the things I don’t know… I can look at the things I do know. Because I have seen that the universe is congruent… it operates in similar ways at every level that I can perceive. So I’m going to say if the life I know is beautiful then the “bigger life”, the life that includes both birth and death…that must be beautiful also.
I’ve been thinking about life getting bigger and bigger the way I talked about it last week, and I also watched a show on TV in the middle of the night: “How the Universe Works”. It told me how the iron and water in my blood were formed over millions of years during a supernova of a double star that happened billions of years ago, and that the gold in my wedding ring was made in an age before that, in another supernova, this time from a single star. Everything we live in, everything we are...was constructed over eons and with incomprehensible violence. They said this on TV…on regular, secular, non-political TV. Scientists said it…that we are that energy… that we are those stars, down to every single molecule in our bodies.
They said that solar systems, galaxies even, can be destroyed… that it’s happening all the time … in black holes and quasars and places where stars are flung at millions of miles an hour and in explosions that equal the energy expended in the entire rest of the universe. They said that our solar system is looking directly “down the gun barrel” of a potential quasar, which is set to go off any time (any time in astronomical terms is now or in several million years). The program said in fact, it could have already happened, and we just don’t know it yet, on account of the distance and time it would take to get here. It also said not to worry, because if that were the case, it would be over so fast that we wouldn’t know what hit us. I said, “Well, that would take care of my insomnia.” And I said, “Oh, thank you very much. This is just what I need to know at 2 o’clock in the morning.”
There are all these thing…all these big, big things…and still, this little deer is under the ice… and this one death matters to someone… to me… I saw it…
These are things I don’t understand, and I will admit that I spend a good bit of time thinking about them. I live with my questions… wondering what I could possibly tell you about such large and tender things… how I could avoid being trite or intrusive… how I could respect your losses and the way you have to live with them right now. I admit that my body or my sense of being keeps rooting down…wanting… feeling its way a little further into these questions… and meantime I keep breathing.
It will be the seventh anniversary of my father’s death in April… and now is the anniversary of the time when we were all going through it. It was difficult… new parts of my dad’s body not working… new lowering of hopes and expectations… and new exhaustions and new sufferings… past anything we ever thought we could handle and then past that. And we had to say yes to everything because he was going through it and we had to say yes to him.
So he was dying and we were dying with him and then he kept going and we came back. I learned I could function on two hours of sleep and go into the ocean (in Florida) and the ocean would take some of my exhaustion away. I learned that little things matter as much as big things. I learned how people made a difference… when everything was so raw and every moment so precious… how brief words and kindnesses still shine on me as greatness and wisdom... and how utter stupidity, and the damage it did, was always in the form of personal smallness disguised as adherence to procedures.
I was of course zooming around, trying to "fix it." He was in his chair and looking out the window. He said, “Gracie. Stop trying to entertain me. Look at the sky. It’s so blue.” That has helped me a lot… to know at the end of his life, as he was edging over, the blue sky was good for my father. The thing itself… the simplest thing… a most fundamental and obvious thing about living on this particular planet… the only thing left for him when everything else was taken away. That was enough for him. That and his courage… my whole families’ courage during that time helped me afterward and it still helps me now.