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Friday, August 1, 2014

A Dying Question

Occasionally life imitates art and not the other way around. Oddly positioned events follow in the wake of creative offerings. I've been presenting just such a class on meditation. At each initial gathering, I asked the participants a question.

     "What do you want or need to control in your life?"

The responses have been the same regardless of the ages of the members.


     "Family members!"

     "My reactions!"

     "What my kids do!"

     "My job!"

     "My health!"

Conspicuously one is always left unsaid. 

     "What about death?"

When I say this, the faces still and their breath freezes in an instant. Death is the ultimate thing humans are deathly afraid of. We want the final curtain to remain closed, dreading our own or the demise of those we love. This particular exploration is one I've undertaken in varying degrees. A few years ago, after a bout of doctor screw up pancreatitis, I contemplated death for weeks. The pain was of an intensity I'd never before experienced, which is saying a lot since I gave birth to twins, one naturally and one via a scalpel on the same day. Eventually my pancreas stopped digesting itself and the question of dying was left for another day.
     Early one recent morning I found a mouse I'd been nursing, in the final moments of life. The baby rodent had come to me by way of Pi our rat terrier. The events that led to his presenting the critter to me are known only to him and that's probably for the best. For ten days my daughter and I hand fed "Henry" every two hours and he seemed about ready for release when he stopped eating. Only a day later Henry lay on his side near the food dish, his body moving oh so slowly with his last heartbeats. I'd not been overly fond of the idea of tending a mouse. I don't care for them much in the wild or in my pantry. But holding him while he nursed from an eye dropper, his mannerisms reminded me of two other babes I'd rocked at 2 am 20 years ago.

     Shit. Don't die. Go live in the woods, find other mice and have mouselets. Don't die.

Henry took a few tiny breaths and stopped be-ing. Sighing heavily, I took his little body to our shed, not sure if he was really dead or playing the part. Leaving him for the day, I hoped he'd be gone when I returned, having solidly duped me with a frozen act.  
     Melancholia settled on my shoulders as I rode my bike north on a designated path, while death trundeled alongside.

   Should I have let him go sooner?

I'd considered releasing him two days earlier when he was weened off baby animal formula. But he seemed so small and the wide world so big.

     Did I do enough?

     What is enough?

The beautiful summer day was undisturbed by my thoughts, nature carried on despite my sadness. 

     When I die what will become of my children?

     Will they know all that I want them to know?

My thoughts moved with the rotations of the tires, swirling in sync and propelling me for several miles. At a major intersection I waited for the light to change. This crossing is complicated by high speed traffic in one direction and in the other a non-designated walk signal. The light turned yellow, slowing traffic in both directions, while the cars opposite geared up to turn. I needed to make it halfway before the drivers forgot a biker was on the road. Engaging the pedals I moved into the intersection as a construction semi ran the red light barreling into the crossing at 65 miles an hour. 

     Oh my God.

     This is it.

My legs continued to move, the neurons had yet to receive a message that forward progress meant certain death. Simultaneously the spokes twirled and a sudden force of pressure leaned into my chest holding me in place, as though someone's forearm was against me, stopping my movement. I sat suspended in time and space.


The truck and I kissed each other back end to side as the pressure released and my bike spit forward.

     Holy shit.

Stunned, I continued biking, turning into a quiet wooded section of the path. 

     I should be dead.

     Am I dead?

I'd seen a movie about people who were in motion when they died and kept doing what they had been doing in spirit, while their body was left behind. The sunny day ignored my question. Coming behind me from the intersection I heard sirens.

     I am dead.

     What the fuck?


I said hello to a passing biker and am offered no response, neither verbal or physical.

     Holy shit.

     I'm a fucking ghost or a fucking something.

     Better keep riding.

Another mile, another human and again no acknowledgement. It's a given that people from Illinois are notoriously unsociable to strangers, so I keep trying. 


I nearly shout the next rider into a neighboring county.

     "Oh! Yes. Yes it is a good morning!"

The man smiles broadly. I stagger my bike to a stop as he continues on his way, having graced me with life. Falling into a nearby bench, sweat and tears mingle on my cheeks. Gasping a little I call my husband to share the news and we both let the enormity of the story settle before saying good bye. Birds chirp in uncoordinated harmony, bees interrupt their melody and the rhythm of nature slows my heartbeat. 

     Who or what came between me and a tire sandwich?

There is no answer that will cover that question. Because to know for sure, I would need to have experienced rubber treads squishing me beyond the possibility for an open casket.
     Surprisingly I wasn't afraid when it seemed I was dead. Fear didn't arise even when I caroled greetings at strangers hoping for a gift of acknowledgement. Shock and disappointment over not finishing the things I wanted to finish and all the words left unsaid and unwritten crashed down upon me in waves. There were stories I'd never told, ideas that had yet to be brought to the surface. My husbands hand still wanted holding and all the next experiences the young people I'd birthed needed to share. It is the unspoken, little thought of To Do List. Not the stupid gotta clean the bathroom and buy laundry detergent bull shit that consumes days of time, but the heart full offerings waiting in the wings. 

     Oh my.

     Oh my.

     Breathe dear girl, breathe.

In the wake of my living realization, melancholia still nestles on my shoulders, alongside memories of a wee mouse who never ran free.    



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