Last week, we had some of the dead ash trees cut down. They were killed by the invasive ash borer and their trunks leaned ominously towards the gardens and house. We’ll recycle their wood, but we grieve these losses, all up and down the trail and for miles around, and especially the deaths of those we’ve considered old friends and neighbors.
This week we spent a couple hours (midnight to 2 A.M.) in the basement bathroom sheltering with the four-leggeds from the tornadoes whirling through our area. There was damage to the east of us, but none here (this time), for which we are grateful, though for all the fear, wind, booming, and drama, we only received a half-inch of rain, nothing to counter the months of severe drought.
The past few days, we’ve had to close our windows against the smoke from the Canadian wildfires, which have severely lowered the quality of the air we breathe. More’s the pity, as the recent heat wave has just decided to pack up and move along, for now, so open windows had been anticipated happily. The oppressive heat seemed to like it here, so I expect it will be back. The gardens are straggling, but hours of watering have kept them going.
The drought’s made a carcass of the river. This morning, at sunrise, I masked against the pandemic and smoke and walked past more dead ash to the bridge to see if anything moved about. Two green herons hopped and fed; I prayed the smoke didn’t damage them more than the poison agricultural chemicals our local farmers have drained into the river. Still, something green is growing on the islands forming on the riverbed; I am uncertain if it’s a sign of healing or if it glows at night like another man-made monstrosity created in response to the great gift of life we’ve mishandled to the extent that NONE OF THE SENTENCES I’ve written thus far would have seemed possible a decade ago, though the wisest among us tried to warn that this is where we’ve been headed for at least a century.
The Earth is shifting beneath and around us in response to our greed and neglect, and I grieve the losses, the billions of losses that seem to be crashing, or sighing, and falling all at once, here at the end of the road.
We had so many chances to choose other paths.
But I’ve traveled with death so long, that I know it deserves witnesses who honor its presence rather than those who blunt the experience by entertaining regrets that can’t be altered. Death needs witnesses who stare it straight in the eye, call it by name, and treat it as a guest, for its job is to lead life from chaos to new creation. It deserves people who call it death, not “passing,” people who ask for forgiveness, who listen to the lost dreams, who hold the suffering, who assure those dying it’s OK to move on, to surrender…The discrepant event in this vigil is that it’s not the Earth that’s dying, it’s the innocent lifeforms that are held in her loving embrace, fed by her deep need to create and sustain life. And the guilty species that’s caused The Great Ending is my own. Sadly, I fear many–or all–of us may also be shown the door in order for the Earth to heal and recreate herself.
Like anyone grieving, I travel with anger, depression, bargaining, guilt, fear, and denial (still), often getting stuck with one feeling or the other for longer than I can bear, but I’m also beginning to experience a readiness and acceptance that this is the time of endings and beginnings for the Earth and I am here, with my gifts intact, to midwife the death-into-life that’s possible in any way I can.
I was thinking about this as we undertook an adventure to save a chair from my childhood: how funny and materialistic and insignificantly personal it seems to tie this one thing to the end of the known world as we know her, but I suppose, since the meaning of all of our existence is generated through our embodiment and connected to other beings and things in theirs, little experiences with things can seed deeper understandings…hence, stories.
My parents bought this maple rocker when they were very young and, as was their way, they cared for it till my mother’s death left it in my care 50 years later. I can’t say I tended it well, leaving it in a corner of the basement, where Mulligan, the cat, worked out his frustrations with all things fabric-covered, until I took mercy and heavily shrouded the chair and a more wickedly-shredded ottoman in heavy sheets, both sparing them further damage and obscuring them from my view. They really didn’t belong meaningfully in my life anymore.
During our (first) lockdown, I uncovered and sat in the chair one morning, waiting for the laundry to finish a cycle. Angels sang and trumpets sounded. Comfort! It was like being held and supported by clouds. And it rocked so gently. Memories stirred.
I found old photos of the chair in various incarnations of upholstery, holding us children as we listened to stories or were rocked in loving arms, and I swear the atoms and energy and memories of all that love and all those stories tingled through me every time I sat in the chair. It had always been a source of comfort, a harbor where we experienced Love and were held in her embrace. Perhaps after all this time, almost 70 years, the chair could be revisioned and be a source of comfort and Love once more.
I located some fabric and a local artist/upholsterer to recover the cushions while I sanded the wood down to its younger essence. Phillip oiled her dry wood and I waxed her, polishing life back into her. We revisioned the ottoman, too, and the two seem like long lost partners, gracing a small space for morning coffee, meditation, and long reads.
I feel like I’m sitting with all the good things in my life when I rest there, rocking and remembering, but also pondering the ways revisoning is the path we must follow now.
Actually, wasn’t my poem, And the People Stayed Home, a call for revisioning? It invited us to listen, meet our shadows, create, and heal…And, when we’re able, we must grieve our losses and recommit to healing the Earth in ways still possible, whether that ensures our survival or not.
The Delta variant, and those coming in its wake are unrelenting reminders that the Earth isn’t yet ready for the return to what we deem normal; we have much more listening and shadow-meeting ahead, I think, in order to revision a world far more beautiful, loving, and equitable than “normal,” and to accept we may not survive to see it.
And there’s the rub. The black holes of our egos and all they’ve required for life support need to be consciously reined in and invited to surrender, at last, to Love. There are many shrouds to pull back and old ways of being to examine in the light of wisdom and truth, sifting and winnowing, while we’re able. Perhaps we can sand ourselves down to new beginnings and bring humankind back to life in right relationship with all. We’ve been the cats destroying the Earth’s fabric for so long; I hope we can change, but I’m truly not certain we will.
And so, it is a time to grieve the losses we’ve caused, the suffering our choices have ensured. Let us name them, hold them, ask their forgiveness, bid them farewell. Let us sit and rock, deriving wisdom from our memories, examining the choices we’re making now, discerning whether we’re capable of change and of revisioning an Earth where nothing is neglected and everything belongs, everything is valued, and everything thrives.
I have made a promise to myself, rocking in my chair: Whatever comes, I will meet it in peace. If humanity can’t change the course of The Great Ending, then I will live every moment I’m able tending the life and love surrounding me, and in great gratitude for the chance I have had to live with Love and know her embrace. All, all my relations.
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