What Would You Miss When You Die?
When I sat the Creativity Retreat at Spirit Rock, our writing teacher posed this question to our writing group, and I wasn’t able to answer it then. There were members of our group who found the topic exploitative and off-putting, then there were those that in a quasi smart-ass way said things like, well when you’re dead you’re gone and so there’s no possibility for feeling (or missing) anything. I saw then that it was a deep and interesting query into what we value about our lives. Here are some of my treasures:
Hummingbirds …their brilliant and speedy perseverance in life, they’re a “flash of lightening in a summer cloud, a flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream…” They are pure beauty and heart and joy.
And speaking of beauty and heart — my children & my grandchildren … These beautiful young women have been my teachers, my truth tellers, and beloved and feisty companions on this journey, and five grandchildren (and one “great” grandson) have reminded me that we can be ageless, timeless, and that there’s play in our life until we decide that there’s not.
My Cats, whose slinky graceful furred bodies remind me they are little wild animals; they grace my home with their beauty, inscrutability, and intelligence. They have been with me in this life since the very beginning – green and golden eyes flashing, paws playing, and cries in the night that tell me they’re looking for safety.
Elephants … the gray behemoths that march softly across the land in Africa try relentlessly to keep their families together … they are wise and loving animals carrying a vast memory, whose lives are threatened by greed and hatred, and somehow they just keep marching on. Looking into the feathered eyes of an elephant changed my life forever some years ago, made me realize I was being seen.
The Ocean … waves roll in forever, as the shimmering ocean changes from shades of gray to brilliant blue in the sun, and the pelicans and gulls and plovers celebrate the bounty of life the ocean delivers. The ocean makes me think of dire adventures at sea, of great love stories, journeys to faraway places, and of our terrible human vulnerability. When I inhale the ocean’s salt air, I think of my sad mother who also was in love with the sea, and remember that eons of time ago I came from the sea.
Buddhas – I have many Buddhas in many sizes in my home, and they are all smiling at me, and reminding me that I am safe, I am present, that I have the capacity to be free from suffering. Buddhas from Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, China, and Japan… they seem to stand as witnesses and places for me to rest in peace.
Italy – I grew from a child to a young woman here, and the warm, chaotic, and stunning culture that is Italy still tugs at my heart. What they do, mostly they do it beautifully. I am grateful. As I am for Florence’s Carmine church, or Venice’s Accademia Bridge when the sun is setting, or the Cinqueterre’s cozy villages that smell of fresh seafood and suntan oil. There’s the music of the the language that rolls off my tongue with delight when they call me “signora.” And then .. there’s the pasta with perfect parmigiano.
JS Bach – My fingers have been striving to play his music all my life, and I am happiest when I listen to Glenn Gould’s piano, the choir singing the St. Matthew Passion, or my own awkward attempts to render the tricky Goldberg Variations. Bach has reminded me of a divine order, of the fact that one can spin out into space with infinite variations only to be able to find the way home easily. When I started to get to know Bach, I knew he’d be in my life for the duration, laying down the order and safety of his beautiful notes.
Friends – Ah, how do you talk about friends? It’s sort of like talking about God. Where are the words? I’ve had one friend for over 60 years and she and I dream each other back to ourselves, other friends who have rescued me when I was hurt, who have laughed when I told a story, who have been able to just be a loving witness to this strange adventure we’re all on. Friends are the jewels that sparkle in our lives, who remind us how rich the journey is.
Artichokes – My favorite food, with its perfect pointed thistle shape and nasty thorns, and nutty heart that doesn’t even need the melted butter. I have eaten these all my life, have taught people how to eat them, and I keep wanting to know just who figured out they were actually a food? They are green and perfect.
Another perfect green: the San Francisco wild parrot, who is a local hero that streaks over the city screeching with joy at life. They were once tended by a guy who was homeless and who then became the St. Francis of parrots; they spread their wings to settle in different neighborhoods in the city and captivate people’s hearts. Their wild green splashed with crimson red on the face remind us of wildness and endurance. Hooray for the parrots!
Standing by the water’s edge with my dog … I will miss this. Peaches and I have become comrades in this life, pals, and for both of us the smell of the salt air fills us with pleasure, we want to laugh and twirl around. She is my little white and tan best friend. She prances, she dances, I just walk slowly, feeling the placement of my feet on the ground, and my wild heart beating.
There are old books I love to hold, and my mother’s crazy and messy abstract paintings I never tire of looking at… There are lit candles by the Buddha and on the dining room table, a generous glass of blood red Pinot Noir waiting for me, and there are the pages of my stories trying to find their place in the world, and my Venetian glass necklaces that sparkle and wink. There is the Bodega house by the beach that faces the sunset every night and holds me safe, and a glossy and very old black baby grand piano on White Street that my grandmother gave me long ago. Treasures all…
Yes, there have been many along the way, and the more I stop and look and listen, the more of them I expect to see. It is the holding of these treasures that helps us with the dark anger and suffering we all face every day. I have a hunch we are supposed to witness rather than just glide through this life with blinders on. What do you think?