November 9, 2010
Part four of a seven-day meditation, with today’s reflection as a matter of life and death . . .
After several hours of personal time spent at the ocean on Thursday of the retreat, one of the prompts was “Out of this solitude,” and what’s below is what came out for me, again with just a few edits.
Out of this solitude, I feel the fullness of walking barefoot on the sand and thinking, no wonder “long walks on the beach” is an assumed inclusion in personal ads. Who doesn’t like such a thing? And Mary Oliver on the beach and Isabel Allende and me? What good company!
Lying sideways and watching the ocean rolling in and out, gulls flying out there, I searched for a whale, willing one to breach up out of the water, feeling like some great sea beast was in me and wanting to see it externalized, leaping out of the waves and back into them.
Lying there feeling so satisfied with me and all I have to offer. Writing a love letter to a friend. Feeling the sand between my fingers, noticing small insects, looking at the logs of driftwood, smelling the pine with the sea breeze—what a blend, what a blend. Feeling like I was sinking into myself, settling in and around my bones.
Then seeing the dead bird on the way out of the beach in one of the dunes. I’m not sure what kind it was; I just saw a mound of gray feathers, flies on it.
“I’m sorry,” I said, then wondered what I was sorry for.
Isn’t it okay to die on the beach?
Does death need an apology? Why are we all so sorry for each other’s loss? Why is that? And is there another way to be? I don’t know. Maybe: Hey, how great—congratulations on your recent loss? Good for you? It was about time? Kicking the bucket—now let’s kick it?
At this moment, thinking of that bird, I don’t know if there’s a place for sorry or even a place for grief.
Well, the answer comes, yes, of course there is. I’ve lived it. But I guess what bothers me is that being sorry makes me feel like something wrong happened, something egregious, something that’s not natural rather than something that is.
There’s a place for sorry, yes, but maybe not there on that mound of feathers passing from one place to the next.
Looking now at what I wrote, I can see the undulating in my brain between fullness and emptiness, on feeling the vibrant capacity of life and then seeing a stark reminder of death.
As usual, part of me recoiled from the death and part of me was drawn to it. I’m pretty sure that the drawn to it is the deeper part of me and that the recoiling comes more from what I’ve been taught about death. So many of us are taught to be sorry for and about death, as though it’s something that shouldn’t happen, as though it’s somehow less natural than leaping around.
And since everything and everyone dies, isn’t this attitude setting us up for constant despair?
I don’t know. I’m sorry can just be another way of saying, “I care about you,” so it’s not like there’s anything wrong with that sentiment.
And is a dead bird on the beach not a good analogy? Being human is different than being a bird in some ways, but in some ways, it really isn’t. And this reflection is officially of the variety that makes my head hurt because I’m not sure I can come to some kind of satisfying conclusion. Maybe I don’t have to.
How can I recognize and honor the wisdom of life lived by an animal, let it inform my own life, but also recognize that being human involves things that just aren’t part of bird life, like blogging or wrestling with meaning? I’m guessing seagulls might not have existential crises, although to be perfectly honest, I have no idea if that’s true. Maybe that’s what they’re all crying about.
I guess more than anything, I want to keep learning how to allow natural cycles rather than resisting them, to keep being committed to being well rather than preventing aging or preventing death. To letting it be okay to die on the beach.
Tomorrow, I will actually be sharing a part two of this writing from today. What came out was a more mythical story and perhaps that’s the best way for me to process or be with the big questions here.
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