With the help of friends, I scattered John’s ashes in a field destined for flowers in a place that he loved. I thought mostly about how his ashes would mix with and feed the blooming flowers, but the field is ever changing. It buds and blooms and decays and disappears. In September all of these life-death processes exist side by side.
Two weeks ago they plowed over the field. I knew it would happen and, yet, seeing the empty field hurt, brought John’s absence into sharp focus. OK, the field will be my teacher of loss, I thought. But this week when I returned, the field was green again! Winter rye, that potent soil fixer, was already growing and greening the plowed rows again. Life and death are in a dance together and we do well to learn its power.
What follows is a glimpse into that changing field interspersed with quotes from Normandi Ellis’s Awakening Osiris: The Egyptian Book of the Dead (Phanes Press, 1988). It’s a book of John’s that when I pulled it off the shelf this past winter brought me great comfort.
“I am like that old [Egyptian God] Osiris waking in the night. Drunk on the cool wine of darkness, I eat the bread of life and die. I know. I am blessed by mortality. I am a field enduring, growing wheat one year, barley the next, tangled flowing papyrus, a hill of sand. I am ever after changing, while the eye of the watcher shines and takes me in” (p.52).
Just scattered with ash
“Even nothing can not last. The seed laid into the void must grow. The candle’s only purpose is to shine in the darkness. Bread is meant to be ground for pulp in the teeth. The function of life is to have something to offer death. Ah, but the spirit lies always between, coming and going in and out of heaven, filling and leaving the houses of earth” (p. 58)
“I come forth from the edge of heaven. … A half moon, I sail on the edge of heaven. The wheat in my field has sprung up in straight rows. I am guardian against forgetfulness, keeping watch, moving on” (p. 134).
“If you stood on a summer’s morning on the banks under a brilliant sky, you would see the thousand petals and say that together they make the lotus. But if you lived in its heart, invisible from without, you might see how the ecstasy at its fragrant core gives rise to its thousand petals. What is beautiful is always that which is itself essence, a certainty of being. I marvel at myself and the things of the earth” (p.167).
“The snake observed with amber eyes. He motioned toward a door that opened from air into air. ‘If that is so, can your heart name the name of this gate?’
‘Being,’ I said.
‘And the lands on either side?’
‘Creation and destruction.’
‘Pass then, [Eternal One],’ he said.
The snake withdrew and the multicolored birds gathered, circling in the dark, gathering me, lifting me up. I stepped through and nothing changed, yet I had entered heaven” (p. 192-3).
“The truth of what we all our knowing is both light and dark. Men are always dying and waking. The rhythm between we call life. In the night I turn and face myself, the many howling, laughing, pausing in the body of one. Some miracle is about to happen. Some new man unseen wishes to rise and speak. I walk in darkness feeling darkness on my skin. Dawn always begins in the bones. … Death maters, as does life. As it ends it begins again. Knowing that is both my comfort and my fear” (p. 218).
The empty field, the sun set, the moon
“In the land of the sun, in the season of the end, I climb the highest hill. The moon is a sliver caught in the trees. Entering night I carry the lamp. Though no man sees it, I shine my light into darkness. See who even a single beam cuts through so the path lies clear. The wolves run frightened. Still no great harm comes to [one] who walks unafraid to die” (p. 167).
The field greening again
“I wait to come forth by day again. My body turns to greening. I wait to give birth into dream, to give form to the peace in my heart. I shall be a man of the earth shaping the things of the god. I am light entering fire, coming forth and shining through darkness. May I walk beneath blue heaven singing, my heart telling the story of light. I am a man blessed by becoming millions and millions of time” (p. 105)