on the peripheries of death

Chipmunks and small birds flit beyond the shoulder of death.

My father would interrupt my clumsy cobbling of life-memory-love professions with a chuckle and point to the antics of the tiny, striped, tumbling acrobatics in their jostle over seeds fallen from the suet feeder. “Well won’t you just look at that…” he’d say through the rasp of his choking-on-life voice.

On cold jutting stones in the silence of the low-alpine Sierras, I’d sit with Aaron, daring myself to ask him the unspeakable: about his personal experience of dying within the Buddhist context that consumed his Phd path during his cut-short years in life. He’d raise a hand to my ramble: “Did you hear that?” Eyes searching, narrowing, he’d stand and look through the binoculars that had become an extension of his body. “There she is. Wow. Look….”

I was cut short. Never said all I had to say.

But that must be a fact in all dealings with the dying.

The flit and patter of those tiny wings and paws. Did they save us from our over-thinking? Focus us instead on the looking? Root us in the insistent presence of just being? Together. Unfocused on dying.

My father and Aaron have now passed. Yet these tiny songlines of their presence still perch and tumble in all my looking-out-the-window quiet moments. At the bedside of death, I had thought it was my duty to give. To unearth. To close. But the dying have their own agenda. And mine couldn’t be bothered with relics. I stumbled into the conclusion.

There is a lightness to leaving.

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