Antidotes to Fear of Death

The following poem was written by Rebecca Elson, young astrophysicist studying the first images from the Hubble telescope, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma at the age of 29. She was not yet forty when she “returned her atoms to the universe” (Maria Popova in Brain Pickings). My friend who just died had a fascination with her relationship to the universe, often referring to herself as “stardust” and captivated with the cosmology of Brian Swimme (The Universe is a Green Dragon.) I thought of her as I read this poem; we have laid on our backs before “eating stars.”

Antidotes to the Fear of Death

Sometimes as an antidote To fear of death, I eat the stars

Those nights, lying on my back, I suck them from the quenching dark Til they are all, all inside me, Pepper hot and sharp.

Sometimes, instead, I stir myself into a universe still young, Still warm as blood:

No outer space, just space, the light of all the not yet stars Drifting like a bright mist, And all of us, and everything Already there but unconstrained by form.

And sometimes it’s enough To lie down here on earth Beside our long ancestral bones:

To walk across the cobble fields Of our discarded skulls, Each like a treasure, like a chrysalis, Thinking: whatever left these husks Flew off on bright wings.

Just This

Yesterday at this time, I was blessing the body of my exquisite soul friend. She passed away in the night after a nearly 8 month journey with metastatic cancer. I’ve written a lot about it in my prior posts. Yet today, as much as I wanted to write about her, write about the end, I couldn’t find a way to begin. It all sounded too cliched to say how amazing she was, how loving she was, how creative she was. It wouldn’t explain how our souls wound together like a walk in a labyrinth, just waiting and trusting that the path would unfold before us, how our deepest yearning was to rend the veils that kept us from being with Being. How we swam in the wavy path of the full moon on tropical oceans, how we dressed up in ridiculous costumes and danced to the pull of the Spirit on retreat, how we met and walked and talked ourselves into a friendship that was as deep as a pilgrim path. Could simple words honor the challenge we made to each other to always see “the more to the More”? Do I even know now how that 35 year-old friendship crafted and sculpted my soul, trimmed my fears, exulted my joy?

I surrendered all the trying and just sat, feeling defeated. Maybe I wouldn’t write anything at all. Maybe sometimes that aren’t enough words or the right ones. I sat….and I noticed the flowers in the vase before me on the coffee table, the last of those blooming on my deck. I had cut them and brought them inside to eke out a little more of summer beauty, as the leaves fall and the garden goes fallow.

I realized as I gazed at them, that surprisingly my heart was supremely happy and undeniably content. Just that. I loved the dusty pink of their petals, the petals themselves as they radiated out. I loved their tiny centers, the little seeds that promised life again in the spring. I loved their stillness. I loved their simple Beauty. Their undeniable being just as they are. Their touching closeness. Their steady blooming even as others in the vase were wilting.

Their beckoning me to dwell in simple presence.

Yes, this was our love for each other.

This is our love for each other.

Just this is enough to say.

Zuihitsu Revisited:

I explored this form in a previous blog–it is Japanese for “follow the brushstroke.” What is here now.

  1. It happened this week. Summer became fall. Not because of any date per se, but because I feel the land itself sigh and begin to slow. Just a few leaves, but they are falling, yellow and brown. The high bush cranberry bushes on my path are a brilliant red and soon, but not quite yet the berries will begin to smell as if something has died. The garden has begun to fade and there are big bare patches now where the spinach, peas and turnips have been harvested. The flowers are getting leggy and the bleeding hearts are collapsing. Time to trim and cut. It is dark again at night and it’s like lingering to let go of a lover’s hand to see the light slip away again. And most of all, I know it’s fall, because it’s something in the air–a new chill, a more rugged wind, the scent of snow on the mountain tops in the morning. The rains have begun, my husband is packing for moose camp and I’m harvesting late raspberries. The earth is turning away from the sun in my part of the world and I feel the stillness of deep winter whispering up the valley.
  2. I’m wondering why grief feels so tiring to my body. What is the chemical reaction going on that translates to this sluggishness? Do I ken into her dying, her slowing down? The wedding of her daughter this past weekend miraculously balanced joy with the poignancy of her being able to attend the wedding. Against the odds, she is still here 7 months since the diagnosis and although weak and thin, the inner beauty radiates. But it was like being at a wake for her before she has died. There was a good bye in the ceremony and celebration that added depth and intensity to the wedding, as if we all attuned to that very moment, forgetting ourselves and opening to Love in many expressions. It was so imperfectly perfect. And I am tired. And letting it be.
  3. My 3 year old granddaughter is learning Bible stories and educated me yesterday; she had the creation story down to about Day 3 so there were the heavens and earth, the sky and the water, the sun and the moon and the stars. Then she said, “That’s it.” So no animals, trees or humans in her story. Then she said, “You remember Jesus?” “Yes,” I said. “Well, he just buyed one of the grapes at the animal farm where the giraffes and lions and tigers live. Then he fell asleep where the lions and tigers were super mean.” “Really,” I said. “What did Jesus do?” “He woke up and that was it,” she said. I’m trying to decide if this was an embellished version of Daniel in the lion’s den??
  4. Reading Love Unveiled by A.H. Almaas, in which he quotes this Rumi poem. “To rend, every instant, a hundred veils. The first moment, to renounce life; The last step, to fare without feet. To regard this world as invisible, Not to see what appears to one’s self. “O heart,” I said, “may it bless thee to have entered the circle of lovers, to look beyond the range of the eye, to penetrate the siding of the bosom!” Rending veils is becoming my work now.
  5. I sometimes pull a Tarot card, not for divination but to see what the card evokes in me for the day and how it makes meaning; today I pulled the Major Arcana card called STRENGTH. It shows a woman in a white gown opening a lion’s mouth. An infinity sign is above her head and the scene around her is bright golden and green. After just acknowledging how tired I am, I could read this as a message of hope–that strength will be given to me in some form, power enough to open a lion’s mouth. But it could also mean taming my animal soul–that part of me that lives and reacts by the instinctual needs of survival, being social, finding pleasure. To live beyond these needs meets the truly human soul that is learning to love and to find truth. The infinity symbol represents the never-ending cycle of this evolution. Is this tiredness my animal soul just wanting pleasure instead of this pain? Or my human soul grieving my friend’s dying?
  6. My mother turns 96 tomorrow. I can’t be with her in her locked down nursing home. She will light up with joy to see me if we can connect by FaceTime tomorrow, but she won’t remember we talked when the screen goes dark. Yet I am still there in her. And she is still in me. As the card said that I sent her, “I MISS MY MOM”–in many ways.
  7. “If you realize all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold onto. If you aren’t afraid of dying, there is nothing you can’t achieve. Trying to control the future is like trying to take the Master Carpenter’s place; when you handle the Master Carpenter’s tools, chances are, you’ll cut yourself.” Tao Te Ching (translated by Stephen Mitchell)