Seeing and Grieving

I am fortunate to live in a place with a lot of sunshine and miles of bike paths. In fact, I can leave my house and jump on the path that runs along the creek in the back and commute to work without ever having to negotiate car traffic. I do this two or three days a week in the warm half of the year. Along the way, I pass within 5 feet of prairie dogs (the gossiping fence line of the animal kindgdom), geese (and the scatological reminders of their cool indifference to the rest of the food chain), rabbits (the babies are out now, so adorable), and squirrels. I once found a lone turtle crossing the path during “rush hour” and stopped to encourage to the edge to keep it from becoming “path kill” or at least “path maimed”. Another 10 feet perpendicular to my trajectory, deer munch, ducks sunbath, fish swim, fox run, and many varieties of birds dive bomb each other for sport. There is a single heron that I have seen frequenting a tall tree branch by the pond near my office. The commute is not a bad way to transition to and from the daily grind.

Yesterday, as I was approaching the intersection of Boulder Creek Path with Skunk Creek Path, I heard two gun shots, and, shortly I came upon a ranger who had stopped traffic on the scenic by-way. Someone (later, I discovered it was a co-worker of mine) had found a deer on the pedestrian dirt path running parallel through the woods. The deer’s back legs were both broken and it was pitiably dragging itself around. The police had arrived to put it down.

I felt sad for the deer. It must have been hit by a car. But the closest road was across the creek, overflowing with fast, spring run-off. It likely suffered excrutiating pain just to crawl as far as it did. The animal found its relief in a semi-automatic, standard police issue weapon. And I was relieved for this deer yet sad to see life end.

But these things do happen, my mind helpfully chirped in. And, yes, that’s right–every moment of every day life ends somewhere, and metaphorically speaking something in me is always dying, I am losing something I had or even missing the opportunity to have something I didn’t even know I wanted or wasn’t ready for. I could easily take such thoughts personally, as if they implied some character failing, some inadequacy on my part, but honestly the loss actually makes me feel more whole. Remembering to grieve every day in small ways keeps me feeling grounded, keeps me out of the low-grade anxiety that comes from dangerously floating away, headed towards Icarus’ doom. There is beauty in feeling sadness that deeply. I soften, I feel connected, I feel alive and engaged. And embracing losses as a daily practice reminds me I’m old enough now, I have seen enough inner and outer terrain, that I don’t have to prove myself anymore, not even to myself. And that the more tightly I hold on to life, the less I am actually living it.

Then, this morning, in an unexpected act of bibliomancy, I came across the following in the essay “Seeing” by Annie Dillard …

I’ve been thinking about seeing. There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast braodside from a generous hand. But–and this is the point–who gets excited by a mere penny? If you follow one arrow, if you crouch motionless on a bank to watch a tremulous ripple thrill on the water and are rewarded by the sight of a muskrat kit paddling from its den, will you count that sight a chip of copper only, and go your rueful way? It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won’t stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days.”

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