The fragility of life

Bird Droppings January 26, 2020
The fragility of life


Early this morning I was awakened by our dog and we both needed to take a potty break. Hearing what I thought was rain, more than likely a teenager’s car rumbling and popping. Whoever went tearing out of our subdivision about two in the morning which did not help my sleep. Fortunately, I dozed off again and It was around seven when I crawled out of bed. I checked sunrise time and had a few minutes to spare if I hurried. I drove to a favorite spot got a few images and then to highest point in county. Coincidentally highest point is only a few feet from a Waffle House. So, I had breakfast grabbed another image or two and headed home. While jotting notes on what I needed to get done today I wrote try and be kind to each person you meet. Some thing had me thinking as I left school saying goodbye to each student. Along the way inadvertently I said what if we don’t see each other again. Words just came out might have been something she had said but was sort of a random thought not really a thought a synchronistic moment. Seriously got me thinking.


Just before I went to Waffle House I stopped at a convenience store for a spare bottle of water. The little girl at the counter was finishing a night shift and was smiling making conversation. I told her I was heading to Waffle House and she responded she used to work there and her mom had just brought her WH breakfast. I asked if she was paid in cash a standard of WH business. She actually did not remember and happened to be on the phone with her mom and asked her. As I left I told her to have a beautiful day and she said likewise.


I was sitting in Waffle House alone writing reading articles on my phone and waitress kept my tea filled and offered a to go cup. I found an article by Alfie Kohn about teaching reading research. For years I have been arguing against phonics. Research is showing children need to know the actually spelling and sight f words more than sounds. Sight words are more effective especially as kids get older. So I got my check and reached for my wallet. Several times the waitress had checked with me about my meal. I had a twenty and a ten-dollar tab. I left the twenty and said keep the change and thank you for a great breakfast. At the door three firemen were coming in and offered to hold the door for me since I am an old fart. I offered to hold for them since they were working. We ended in a draw as two women came through. Why write about moments in life? Life is fragile thinking back to my comment to a student. What if???


When I got to the house, some of what I thought was a teenagers poorly tuned car was the furnace going on and off with the cold front moving through the state. Since I was off I put off writing and reading to sit and smudge a bit this morning as I got home. I Sat for thirty minutes watching the sage burn and smoke drift off into the sky. As I do I offered thanks for the day and people I met. I carefully put away smudge stick and began my day. Some minor cleaning organizing in the house and on to writing and school work.


A dear friend sends out numerous emails much like I do and I opened one with the subject line of A letter to the Editor. Over the years I had seen this several times when he would address local or national issues and I was pretty much ready for anything but what he wrote. After reading his comments which were about arming teachers and more gun talk with the political pressuring from NRA and other groups, more recently than in previous years. I did get thinking and most of the effort is profit not constitution oriented. Just think about it of major industrialized countries we have nearly ten times as many legal guns and twenty times more homicides per hundred thousand residents and with every gun control scare ammo and gun sales sky rocket. Is not capitalism a great entity?


“Respect for the fragility and importance of an individual life is still the mark of an educated man.” Norman Cousins


I got thinking back and, in another situation. several years back a neighbor in our subdivision not the one tearing out at two earlier, was called while in Tennessee to hurry home his daughter had come down with a high fever and was rushed by helicopter to the Children’s Hospital In Atlanta. Before he could get to Atlanta she had passed away. Several different issues, a malfunctioning spleen and rapidly spreading severe infection had caused her death. AS I thought t that moment I was immediately thinking of my ids spread around the south and grand kids, spouses and family members and how we take life so meaninglessly. Life is so fragile in the great scheme of things.


“When we finally know we are dying, and all other sentient beings are dying with us, we start to have a burning, almost heartbreaking sense of the fragility and preciousness of each moment and each being, and from this can grow a deep, clear, limitless compassion for all being.” Sogyal Rinpoche


As I heard the story from my son who knows our neighbor better than I do. I was taken back and recalled raising three children through all of those years and illnesses and trials and tribulations. My wife made a comment several times over the holidays about how it is a miracle that any child gets to be an adult as she played with our grandchildren almost holding them every second she had available.


It was nearly thirteen years ago my wife and I both lost our fathers within a few months of each other. I recall leaving my own fathers’ bedside where he lay still not talking anymore as I drove to hear my son at a choir camp he had attended for a number of years in a talent show presentation. He had become locally famous for his blues harmonica and his rendition and cover of two great singers. Maybe I should say a great songwriter and a singer; some folks will never like Bob Dylan’s singing, He combines Bob Dylan and Axl Rose’s in a duet version of Knockin on Heavens Door. This morning a photo of two hawks together in a tree posted on Facebook by a fellow teacher reminded me of that day.


Mama, take this badge off of me
I can’t use it anymore.
It’s gettin’ dark, too dark for me to see
I feel like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door.
Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door
Mama, put my guns in the ground
I can’t shoot them anymore.
That long black cloud is comin’ down
I feel like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door.

Knockin on Heavens Door by Bob Dylan, 1973


As I drove to hear my son sing I passed a nearly white, tall, dead tree alongside the road. Sitting guarding the way were a pair of red-tailed hawks. Seldom have I seen two together sitting. When I received a call the following morning I knew my father had passed away. I have this song still daily on my mind as I use it as my son’s ring tone on my cell phone. My father had lived a full life and we celebrated his life in his passing. Throughout his life my father shared an affinity for Native American culture and understanding with me. It was late in life he had found his great grandmother my great great grandmother was Leni-Lenape (Delaware) who were part of the Algonquin nation. It was later I learned she had been a medicine woman. In many societies’ women hold equal if not more power than men and among the native peoples from tribe to tribe you find some differences. As I was reading I found this thought. Within the Sioux Nation many legends exist of The White Buffalo Calf Woman. She was the first of the Sioux and all came from her. Along with that legend and story is this simple lesson for life.


Lakota Instructions for Living
Friend do it this way – that is,
whatever you do in life,
do the very best you can
with both your heart and mind.
And if you do it that way,
the Power Of The Universe
will come to your assistance,
if your heart and mind are in Unity.
When one sits in the Hoop Of The People,
one must be responsible because
All of Creation is related.
And the hurt of one is the hurt of all.
And the honor of one is the honor of all.
And whatever we do affects everything in the universe.
If you do it that way – that is,
if you truly join your heart and mind
as One – whatever you ask for,
that’s the Way It’s Going To Be.
Words passed down from White Buffalo Calf Woman


I recommend for those who have an interest in Native peoples to read Black Elk Speaks. I recall a dear friend offering his copy for me to read nearly forty years ago at Mercer University. Since that time I have given away several copies. The lesson from Black Elk is one of, we are all interconnected and all of life is a circle from beginning to end and back.


“Everything the power of the world does is done in a circle. The sky is round and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves. Our teepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation’s hoop, a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children.” Black Elk, Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux


My days and evening often end or start with a swirl of smoke. I will place a bit of white sage, sweet grass, several ursa leaves and a few other bits and pieces in a bowl and watch the smoke curl skyward as I ponder the day. The burning of sage and sweet grass is a cleansing act and sacred to many people. Last night I walked out to silence as a light breeze took away what was left of a sunny day. As I fanned the embers with a hawk feather and watch the last few wisps of smoke rise a tiny single brilliant white cloud passed by me heading towards the stars and moon.


I opened an email unknowingly thinking this was another political gesture or comment on the financial crisis impacting each of us and found a letter from a father who had lost a son just a few days ago. It was a letter of words he needed to say and many were unspoken. As I went through the day yesterday thinking about how Monday I would be surrounded by teenagers and life my thoughts were with my friend and his wife who were grieving the passing of a vibrant and youthful son.


It has been several years since my mother handed me a note entitled, what if I had never been born”. As I read her thoughts addressing myself and sisters and our children she told me the story of her grandfather who should have died in a coal mining accident so many years ago. We talked about how we each have purpose even the smallest amongst us. I often draw reference to my vision I had many years ago of life as a puzzle, a magnificent and grand puzzle. Each piece is multifaceted and minute, yet each unique and interconnected to the next. I try to understand when it seems that nothing makes sense. Each piece of the puzzle is hard to see when alone. It is within the pieces falling in place that the picture is made whole. What if I had died when I stopped breathing numerous times in seizures as a baby? What if I had not come home from the West Chester Hospital when I was three years old and sick with polio? What if I had not awakened from surgery when I again stopped breathing as a teenager? But these pieces of the puzzle those aspects of who I am have made me and it is each piece that provides us with strength and courage to see other pieces fall into place.

It has been nearly Twenty years since my oldest son left me a post-it note with a quote on it when I got home from sitting through the night with a young man who had been in a car accident. I watched monitors bleep and blip and never did they go the direction I really wanted. When morning came he was declared gone. I sat listening to discussions and comments and wondered till I got home and found my note.


“Life is about the journey not the destination.” Steven Tyler


As I read that letter again from my friend I knew my friend’s son had loved life, he had made a mark on each of his family members, wife and all who knew him. I thought back to that small cloud passing over my head as I went out last night in my meditations. My friends please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste. Life is fragile handle with care peace my friends.


My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)

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