Rainbows. A meadowlark at dusk. I stop what I’m doing to listen and turn my fully opened heart in that direction because it won’t last forever…that this, too, shall pass.
In 1992, I was approved for a 10-month education detail to my alma mater, The College of Charleston. I was given a housing and subsistence allowance that could have put me up in a motel for the 10 months. Instead, I rented an old beach house (at the off-season rate) on Sullivan’s Island, a barrier island northeast of Charleston.
It was heaven for me. I had grown up in Mount Pleasant but rarely saw the beach as a child; my father was terribly afraid that one of us would drown while playing in the surf. To have this second opportunity to watch the sunrise over the waves, to inhale salt air, to drive along tidal marshes and over the Cooper River Bridge day in … and evening out, to have seagull calls be soundtracks to my day and the whip-poor-wills as lullaby’s by night…these were blessed kisses from God…
…but kisses that I knew would come to an end.
Every night I would drive over the bridge from school to home with the windows open and my arm reaching out to feel every molecule of spray, thanking the lights on the ships and channel markers. I would smile in gratitude every time I drove the causeway, making note of the tide, because I could…and knew that soon I would not be able to. Every Saturday I would buy shrimp fresh off the boats and with the screened porch doors open and the mango sun setting beside me, I would slowly cook my favorite meal and take it to the porch swing to eat…and to savor…to remember.
The room I slept in had its own door out onto the broad screened porch. That door was never closed. I kept it open through the winter chills, the spring rains, the Perfect Storm, cricket filled evenings…even for the parade of stray cats heading to the kitchen at dawn to break their fast with Emmet, my pet. I could not bring myself to close the door. It was just for a while, I reasoned, because I would not always be here. I would not want to miss any of this.
On her blog, and apparently also in an upcoming book, Cynthia Bourgeault addressed the anxiety and cynicism of a student struggling “with the doubt that there is an actual spiritual, supernatural realm beyond our human experience,” a prospect that we all face…particularly those of us who aspire to travel to the edge of what we can know.
In Fear of Death – an evolution, I relate how my fear of death has changed several times throughout my life. The prospect of there being nothing of me when all is said and done, unnerved me:
I mean, after suffering as much as I have, I was hoping to have an experience of the joy promised; If I have no self, I have no experience…no sensation. That bothered me a lot for a while…but only for a while…
Cynthia, with much tenderness and respect, sought to put the student’s heart and mind to ease; she pointed out that he is “standing at the edge of a major paradigm shift…if you can stand it.”
She encouraged him:
“Throughout the spiritual ages, across all the sacred traditions, there has been a cloud of witnesses who can validate that personhood beyond the physical realm does indeed exist.
“Rest assured that consciousness does not go dark when your individual pixel of it departs from its individual body container. The only thing that goes dark … is your individual relationship to consciousness. Consciousness is the stuff of the universe, undivided and whole. It will never go dark. It will simply enfold “you”, and the exile will be over…
“I’m not sure this helps, but hopefully it at least affirms that you’re standing on sacred ground, and that cynicism is not the only option. The other is to deepen the wonder.”
So what has all this to do with my 10-month detail in Charleston?
Life continues to be inexpressibly beautiful at times and heartbreaking at others, and I am keenly aware of the impermanence of it. To the best of my understanding of myself, I believe I am prepared to let it go. I spend my days now lingering on each bird’s song and stretching out my trips to the store to catch every possible bit of lake reflection and sunset. Books are not just imparted wisdom but enjoyment. I want to stay alive to see how the story ends and to be as useful as God wants me to be, but I know that this won’t last.
It will simply enfold “you”, and the exile will be over…
(Cynthia, thank you.)