We tend to think of death as a return to clay, a victory for nature. But maybe it is the converse: that when you die, your native place fills with sorrow. It will miss your voice, your breath, and the bright waves of your thought, how you walked through the light and brought news of other places.
-John O’Dohonue, in Divine Beauty
There is a walking trail near our home that parallels a river. When our dog Jasper was a puppy, and we measured his age in weeks, not years, I would take him there in the hopes of acclimating him to walking on a leash, to ignoring distractions, to calmly moving forward at my pace, not his. His reward for good behavior would be lots of praise and a quick dip in the cool water of the river. Jasper is four years old now, and over the course of his lifetime, I’ve walked dozens of miles on that trail, him at my side. I’ve spent hour upon hour of my life there. Once my dog was comfortable, and took less of my conscious focus, I spent hour upon hour in deep thought, contemplating the path of life on which I travel. This is a place that I’m certain will miss me when I die.
This past week, I travelled to Maryland, near a house that my husband and I owned, and close to the hospital where we had our daughter Katie. It has been 15 years since we lived there. Those were formative years for our family. Being there again brought back memories of our life there. I distinctly remember one moment when I was feeling pulled in so many directions, rushing from place to place, and, as I was driving, the cloudy sky opened up, and breathtaking rays of sunlight were streaming down, illuminating the road before me. This consolation gave me an immediate feeling of my dad, who had died 5 years before. Here, he became present, and it was as if he was telling me that all would be well, to lay my worries aside, and to delight in the presence of the divine in that moment. Though it was only a few seconds long, a tiny slice of time, this is a place I’m certain will miss me when I die.
Our family lost a wonderful patriarch this week. My uncle was a strong, hard-working man with a deep love for his family and a perpetual smile on his face. He was a seasoned fisherman; Uncle Rich loved fishing. His catch was abundant, and his family was generous. He and Aunt Jackie must have fed the entire town many times over in those years. I’m certain that the waters on which he fished will miss him now that he has died. Those waters share our family’s grief.
Today, I consider thresholds, those places where we are touch the divine, and, in some way, remember those people who have died. Those places that you can be certain will miss our presence.
I invite you to do the same.