A bear ate a salmon under a tree ten miles from the river in which she caught it. The tree roots absorbed the salmon and salmon molecules were found 150-feet up in the topmost pine needles. I like to think that if I could be buried skin to soil I would become compost and nourish something green and growing–my molecules blending with the earth, becoming plant, becoming food in the fundamental cycle of life and death
I believe my brushes with mortality have given my life a deep richness. “You were at deaths door the whole first year of your life” my Mom would say. It was the myth of my beginning. My father was 50 when I was born. I remember nights crying myself to sleep when I’d think “I’ll only be 20 when he dies.” The looming fact that my father would probably die when I was relatively young is part of why he was my beloved hero. He died when I was 32.
Death hovers near. Growing up in Washington, D.C. I was accosted several times. An amazing girl at my boarding school was murdered. Two other murders surrounded that school within a few years. There were numerous close calls, like when the airplane seemed to shut off in mid-flight “Our generator has just gone out.” If you don’t know what a generator does that news sounds like you’re about to bite the dust. Throw in an attempted strangulation and successful rape, deaths of relatives and closest friends and it all adds up to a life entwined with death.
When my mother died the grief and sense of my own pending mortality deepened my dance with death. I had heard or dreamt of a Tibetan practice called “Walking like a corpse.” I walked my fields and forest asked myself to be a walking corpse. Day after day for many days I walked the land like a corpse. Then, one day, I was the browned six-foot prairie grass. I was humus under my feet. I was the green shoots of spring. Death became the marrow of life not something to fear.
For me, the heart of peace and making loving, joyful choices is becoming intimate with death. Its presence keeps my vision broad. When I’m caught in narrowed, small-minded thinking, recalling the preciousness of life opens me out to the beauty of the world. I may die in a few minutes when I drive out my road this snowy day. It is just as possible that I may die an old lady. But death is certain. It is nature’s greatest gift. Giving nourishment for new life. Giving me a perspective that does not allow this moment to be taken for granted or worse, missed altogether. In this moment there is the smell of my tea, the cool winter morning air, the symphony of a waking house-mystery, beauty in every moment. The light of death gives me life.