Thursday, October 11, 2012

Clay


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December 18, 1999

Piled like human pick-up sticks, we wheel through town. My companion and I are perched, balancing, barely hanging on.  It's a fantastically dangerous place to be!  Whizzing through street, sounds and smells.  A full-bodied experience, imprinting itself on my DNA.  These moments make me.

In the speedy split of a half second, my eye catches a girl, I KNOW HER!  She's selling sticky breakfast rice. My hand raises to waive as I hear her trailing soprano announce that a woman we know has passed away in the night.

She's gone.  A heart stopped.

Forty years earlier she made her screaming entrance into the world.  No epidurals here.  Her baby body was  washed and swaddled tightly with a pouch of garden herbs pinned to her blanket.  Traditions explain: "it keeps the vampires away".

We'd just seen her the other day.

She was ill.  And, in the usual way it goes in third-world countries, they aren't really sure what was wrong.  I heard the medicine woman explain,  "her body got sick after giving birth to her last baby."  That baby is now a t-shirt clad toddler laughing and running up the street with a stick in hand.  We get a high-five as he runs by.

Her body seemed to be accelerating through the wearing out and withering process.  A dark blue patterned house dress hovered around her and never seemed to touch her skin.  My clearest memory recalls her shiny dark eyes and witty laughter.

Dislodging ourselves from the human pick-up sticks, the motorcycle coughs into low gear and stops.  I pass the driver a few coins.

A dozen vigil candles burn skipping shadows across the endless collection of Roman Catholic Patron Saints holding the Christ Child.  In place of her chair is a box, a coffin.

With the greatest reverence, her husband asks if we will help dress her body for burial.  My heart gasps while my throat closes and my eyes water with emotion, we both nod "yes".  My companion and I, holding hands, squeeze tightly.  I feel as if I have been invited to participate in a solemn ancient human ritual.

Preparing the dead to cross over.

His hands reverently placed on the small packet of clothing he passes to us.  A mans' hands tell his story.  These hands are rough and on any other day may be found working, repairing and providing, but this morning they shake with the loss of his love, his wife, the mother.

Humbly and silently, we begin the task of caring for her.  I have never felt the cold clay of a human body before.  The stark difference between our warm, living hands against her clay is profound.  Her skin literally feels like thick clay, almost as if it could be molded.  The breath of life no longer filling her nostrils.

With her clay in my hands, I see that our bodies are a fantastic gift, a vessel to be honored.  And without our Spirits, the breath of life, we are nothing but clay to be recycled by the earth.

I begin to understand that she is not dead.  Her body is clay and stiff but this is not the end.

September 20, 2012

My own grandmother's warbling breath faded.  And as it did, she slid her footstool to the side, preparing to stand while reaching her arms out.

"Who do you think came to get her?" my mom asks as tears fill her eyes.

The whole family agrees, it must have been her son and two grandsons who have already passed over.

She lived for 89 years, rode horses, lived through the blizzard of '49 and survived a plane crash!  She was married to my grandfather for 66 years.  They gave life to 3 daughters and 2 sons.  At 90 years old he is navigating through his first nights without her.  He whimpers with the dignity of a man who has let his love go.

My 3-year-old son asks, "Did her heart stop?"

The touch of her cheek is a piercing reminder that we are more than just bodies of clay.
Part body: electrical pulses, H2O, mitochondrial DNA, subject to disintegration.
Part spirit: purpose, freedom, instinctive, ageless.

Their separation highlights their need for each other as working, equal parts, unified.

I love my life.  I love the gift of my body which gives me freedom and agency.  I choose who I will be, how I feel no matter what surrounds me.  Mr. Scabs brought things into his life that made him a slave.  A man without freedom.

There is something really fantastic about these men in honest recovery.  It is the ultimate collaboration of spirit and body.  I'm thankful for the possibility of metamorphosis. 

6 comments:

  1. Forgive me, I write through tears, as this brings back memories of my first husband's passing. What a good man he was.

    We truly are so much more than clay. We have so much to give during life and were put upon this earth for a reason. Once we move on, we leave behind memories, footprints on other people's souls and then greet them when it's their time to move on too.

    Again, I'm sorry for your loss.

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  2. Beautiful post April! You left a footprint on my soul today.
    My dad's mom passed away just two days before my 14th birthday. It was hard for me to accept. It was my first real experience with a loved one dying. I remember on my birthday there was a violent lightning storm and I was frightened by the thunder. I was looking out a large picture window in my living room and saw lightning in the shape of a smile...never seen such a thing before. I kind of thought my grandmother had something to do with that. When I saw it I thought of her, my fears were calmed, and I smiled right back.

    I hold onto memories like that and replay them sometimes when I feel lonely. Knowing I will be reunited with loved ones who've passed on brings sweet peace to my heart. I have no doubt they watch over us in our times of need. I have felt both of my grandmother's nearby in some of my darkest moments. They are my guardian angels.

    Sorry, for your loss. I hope you can feel her love for you!

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  3. Wow... yeah! It makes everything so much more real when you witness a person pass through a physical veil in to a new world. It IS a rebirth of sorts (though we call it death). But then it's even more amazing to see a person pass through a mental veil in our world - the metamorphosis that Mr. Scabs had to pass through to recover. It's like a rebirth for him!

    I hope you are feeling the peace and comfort of your grandma.

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  4. For years, I didn't realize that my husband's agency had been compromised with his addiction. I just thought he was being careless and weak.
    How wrong I was.

    After losing their 9 month old, my brother and his wife wondered the same thing you all did... "I wonder who came to get her?" I also wonder if there's people there when we come into the world. A Farewell Committee?

    I'm sorry to hear about your grandmother. I'll keep you and your family in my prayers.

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  5. Beautiful post, thank you. I'm sorry for the loss of your grandmother - for you and all of your family.

    I also love the part about your life being beautiful and free because of your choices. And the juxtaposition with your husband. I just keep thinking of these scriptures, "Wickedness NEVER was happiness" and "consider on the happy and blessed state of those that keep the commandments." Even though sometimes I feel weighed down by the choices of my husband, MY conscience is clear and that is a beautiful feeling.

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