I distinctly remember the first time I realized that I would die. I was about 9 or 10 and I was lying in bed at night, when suddenly this realization poured over me. I am going to die someday. The room spun. My heart pounded. Surely, this couldn’t be possible. Yet, not only was it possible – it was absolutely going to happen!
Sometimes I wonder if I think about death more than the average person. It’s not that I have a morbid fascination with it. Nor do I fear it. But the knowledge of this universal truth compels me toward a respectful recognition of this point within the Circle of Life.
I feel a need to confront death and suffering head on. This is difficult work, and it is a part of what draws me to working in wildlife rehabilitation. I do not want to run, hide, or be in fear of the Truth. I want to walk hand in hand with it, to welcome it, to be at peace with it.
A couple of days ago, I received the news that my beloved raccoon friend, Nyxie, had died. She was a special patient at the wildlife rehabilitation center I work at, and her sweet, gentle disposition touched the hearts of all who knew her.
I was so crestfallen when I got the news, even though I knew it was best in the long run. I took a walk down to the old cemetery near my house, and I saw a flock of turkeys coming up the path. How apropos. Turkeys somehow always remind me of the gifts of life and death.
I walked down to the weathered tombstones, the graves of townsfolk who witnessed the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the turn of the century. Normally, I only walk to the edge of the cemetery. There is something that prevents me from entering. I think it is just the knowledge that I am standing on the bones of lives that were once filled with vitality – people who laughed, ate, slept, suffered, loved. And now their skeletons lie flat and crumbling below my feet.
But I did not hesitate to enter the cemetery this time. I looked at the headstones. I looked at the surrounding forest. I listened to the cars in the distance. I smelled the autumn air. I felt Death and Life beside me, around me, inside me – constant companions and friends. I felt grief. I felt the wind rustle. I felt my heart beat. I felt peaceful.
On that note, I’d like to share one of my favorite excerpts from Johnny Muir:
“All the merry dwellers of the trees and streams, and the myriad swarms of the air, called into life by the sunbeam of a summer morning, go home through death, wings folded perhaps in the last red rays of sunset of the day they were first tried. Trees towering in the sky, braving storms of centuries, flowers turning faces to the light for a single day or hour, having enjoyed their share of life’s feast – all alike passed on and away under the law of death and love. Yet all are our brothers and they enjoy life as we do, share heaven’s blessings with us, die and are buried in hallowed ground, come with us out of eternity and return into eternity.”