Sometimes the most obvious insight takes years to see.
All my life I have worked hard to learn how to read the body and read the land. To read my life and the lives of those circling around me.
Narratives, after all, are what sustain us, propel us. They are the flicker of flame that allows us to see, even barely, into the shifting shadows. They are the skeleton that reveals the shape of a life lived in the air, on the land, in the underground river, or in the volcano vents at the bottom of the warming sea.
Narratives are lifelines that we cast ahead of us.
Narratives are anchors that ground us.
Narratives are phosphorescent remnants that shimmer within sight of our descendants, filaments of stories that we leave behind.
I have been thinking about dying. I imagine others have been thinking the same. After all, we have passed 500 days of the global pandemic with over 4.24 million dead.
I know people who have died. I imagine you do too.
Some at a distance. Others, beloved.
Some from COVID.
Some in accidents.
Some through long illness.
Some pulled out in the riptide.
And then the others, holding on. Holding on. Resisting.
When I say I have been thinking of dying, I don't just mean I have listened every night to the tally of the dead. But rather, I have been thinking about living and the shape of a life, the shape of my life.
How to begin my day.
How to end my day.
How to end my days.
What is it that I want to accomplish?
What is it that I want to do?
Who are the people I want to be with?
Whose voices do I want to hear?
Who are MY 7 starlings? Who are those 7 birds that I must follow as I swoop with the flock at sunset? As we clear the ground of predators? As we settle in for the night?
Who should I follow in this vast murmuration that is our collective life?
A flock of starlings flies near Tarragona, Spain. Photograph by Tony Marshall in The Atlantic. For more images of murmurations from this series check out this lovely article.
So this is the insight that came to me this morning. So obvious, but I am apparently still learning to understand the world with a flickering flame in my hand in the midst of shifting shadows.
In dying, there is a lesson.
The reason why we leave this world naked and empty handed, is simply because in life we must share all of the gifts the Creator has so generously handed to us, so that when we die we have nothing left to give.
Nothing left to return.