The fragility of life

Bird Droppings January 28, 2022

The fragility of life

I was awakened a bit early with a very vivid dream early this morning. I am also getting old and needed to take a potty break. Hearing what I the rain and a teenager, I assume tearing out of our subdivision about two in the morning, did not help my sleep as well. Around four, I went back to sleep and, having nothing special to do, slept late. In my dream, some of what I thought was rain was the bathroom water still running. I forgot to jiggle the handle. When I finally got to my computer, I decided to catch up on emails and do some reading.

A dear friend sends out numerous emails, much as I do, and I opened up an old one with the subject line 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 about arming teachers and more gun talk focusing on the political pressure from NRA and other groups, more recently than in previous years. Most of the effort is profit, not constitution-oriented; I did get thinking. Just think about it major industrialized countries. We have nearly ten times as many legal guns and twenty times more homicides per hundred thousand residents. With every gun control scare, ammo and gun sales skyrocket. I often wonder about capitalism and sarcastically think, is it not 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, just 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 to the hospital, and before he could get to Atlanta, she had passed away. Several different issues, a malfunctioning spleen, and a severe infection had caused her death.

“…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

I heard the story from my son, who knows our neighbor better than I do, and I was taken back and recalled raising three children through all of those years and illnesses and trials and tribulations. My wife commented 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.

Fourteen years ago, my wife and I lost our fathers within a few months of each other. I recall leaving my father’s bedside where he lay still, not talking anymore, as I drove to hear my son at a choir camp he had attended for several 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 pure white dead pine tree alongside the road. Sitting guarding the Way was a pair of red-tailed hawks. Seldom have I seen two together sitting. The following morning, I received a call. I knew my father had passed away. I still have this song on my mind daily 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. My father shared an affinity for Native American culture and understanding throughout his life with me. It was late in his 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. Many legends exist within the Sioux Nation 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 that those interested in Native peoples 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 that 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 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, sweetgrass, 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 sweetgrass is a cleansing act and sacred to many people. Last night I walked out to silence as a light breeze took away the smell of the rain and mist. As I fanned the embers with a hawk feather and watched 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 tomorrow 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, my brother, my 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 a purpose, even the smallest amongst us. I often refer to my vision I had many years ago of life as 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 each piece provides us with strength and courage to see other pieces fall into place.

It has been over 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 they never went the direction I 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 hearts and always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin 

(We are all related)


2 responses to “The fragility of life”

  1. I love the way your mind wanders through many perspectives . . . thank you for bringing reminders of thoughtfulness and purposes we cannot fathom until we let them settle into the places they were meant to be . . .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: