Lessons from spent things. Gone things. Dead things.
People make fun of me for my fascination with husks. I tend to save them. Savor them, even. Consider them. Consecrate them.
I’m not the only one. There is a we; an us. It’s no longer socially acceptable to say tribe if you aren’t indigenous to the land you occupy, but in an abstract sense? Probably still no. But to the point, ask the internet to highlight people’s fascination with abandoned buildings or ghost towns or rotting theme parks. Shipwrecks. Burial places. How many battlefield tours happen week in and week out? We do this.
The everyday spent objects are no less intriguing. Empty bird nests, snake skins, shells, pods, dandelion fluff. Gourds. Fossils. Artifacts.
Not only tangible things hold this holiness. Lesson appear in the void of intangibles as well. In the loss. In the ceasing; temporary or otherwise. During my competitive running days there were many insights I couldn’t or wouldn’t learn until I was injured. Remember how I filled at least two dead blogs all that road-grit wisdom? After the new wisdom is uploaded, the old mode becomes the artifact.
Who was it that said we learn more from failure than success? I’ll add learning why we really do a thing only once we can’t do it anymore. It’s similar to the old adage that we often don’t know the true value of a thing until we’ve lost it, but not exactly. There are hidden reasons for our compulsions. We often discover them in failure. Sometimes only in failure.
The theory of rock bottom; you know this one. The things we ignore or deny finally get their reckoning only when we’ve hit rock bottom. When the spent thing is You. Me. Or Us.
I’ve had several marriages which ended in divorce. They each offered specific wisdom only after they were dead, and I could only receive that wisdom once I stopped frantically trying to save each of them.
Enlightenment on the other side of surrender.
The glory of life after the mid-life crises.
The relief of a tension break.
The way my dog rubs his body all over something dead after he’s just killed it.
A thousand and one tales of folks who lost everything only to claim those calamities were the best things which ever happened to them.
The pivot point of I Give Up.
The therapy of a good cleansing cry. Cleansing, purging, dissolving, clearing.
I once declared that nothing compels people faster than a tragedy. I remember typing the words the first time they came out of me. It feels like a universal truth so I doubt I was the first person to say such a thing. But it still rings true, whatever its origin.
Religion tried to teach me that death was a punishment and that I could escape it if I behaved a certain way. More importantly, this escape was an obligation rather than an option, because of a previous death on my behalf. I was/am (according to doctrine) in debt to death. I was taught someone else had to die to make me acceptable or eligible for a life free from eternal torture. This was the death of religion for me; a rejection of the notion that I owe my life to a dogma of human sacrifice. Another example of wisdom on the other side of disillusionment.
Several years ago I created a 30-day practice designed to foster forgiveness. Every day for a month I forgave something or someone or myself. I blogged it each time. But the critical element was the loss, giving up, or killing off of something each time. Something had to die each time. I had to release something each time. Drop, let go, break, dissolve, let die. That was a grueling 30 days but it was the process that is still relevant.
I watch the seed, sprout, flower, fruit, wither, seed cycle happen over and over in my garden. Each time resulting back to a place of creation. Always back to another beginning, which means always back to another possibility and another opportunity. But how fast does this fantasy of eternal hope evaporate when we realize that without a brain the plant can only grow the same thing over and over? The deeper wisdom is in the death of this metaphor.
I’ve given up trying to revolutionize anyone else’s fear of death, response to death, concept of death in general. I used to think that I could save people some unnecessary suffering if I could help them deprogram and embrace death differently. But I have come to realize this desire was rooted in making myself less uncomfortable with other people’s grief. And since suffering and loss comes to us all, why arrest the deepest inner work many of us will ever do? Some suffering is necessary for those of us who won’t face/admit/learn any other way. So we’ve just witnessed the deeper wisdom of the death of a good intention.
Dead conversations. Oh, my soul. Either aborted or extinguished prematurely, or the big ugly blowout with no resolution. The means to an end mercenary conversations. Oof. And the silent killers, withheld conversations. The wake of someone’s silence is a particularly witchy time and place. When one believes she is keeping the peace but exactly the opposite actually happens. Peace is destroyed for the one with whom she refuses to speak. Stonewall spellbinding.
But then there is the dread of a conversation pending. When we can feel it coming and death is coming with it. All signs point. Writing on the wall. Verdict is in. The train will wreck. The ship will sink. And the likelihood that we will survive is little comfort compared to the dread we swear is killing us in the meantime. Get it over with? Wait and hope?
Biting the bullet. Bull by the horns. Pull out all the stops, pull the trigger, pull the plug, burst the bubble. These are ways we make right now die, come to think of it.
Cheating death. I’m not convinced this is a thing. Death is part of everything alive. From hypothesis and theory to cellular turnover. Death gets equal time. We don’t really cheat by staying alive. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out life after death is simply life with death.
Death of hope. Death of belief. Innocence lost. Paradise lost. Serenity shattered. Obsolescence. Remember in Anna Karenina when she calls her lover a murderer while making love with him? Because he murdered her previous concept of happiness. And yet … well, you know how it ends. The entire novel is a study of death if you look at every character’s story within it.
That’s all I am doing, lest you grow concerned, dear reader. I’m simply studying death, prompted by sage in the photo above. Garden variety save, quite literally. I neglected it and let it go to seed. The death of my attention birthed my current preoccupation. And lest you judge, dear reader, I remind you of the current global preoccupation with death tolls, death rates, and causes of death. You’re doing it too. It’s healthy to study, examine, question, consider.
Die afraid or die informed. Eyes wide open or clamped shut? I noted with interest how uninformed people are about gradual death until they are sitting in an office signing their living wills and final directives. I watched their faces when the lawyers explained options reserved for that special time when the body’s systems are shutting down one at time and life is eking away incrementally. We know what to list next to the boxes available for our initials because we’ve watched, documented, and studied.
Social media is now social activism. This is an especially poignant place to study death right now. Death of cultures, systems, and schisms. Some of it is beautiful and awesome to behold. Some of it is excruciating. There is value in investigation and analysis even as it causes some things to die or become abandoned, or evaporate because they were never real at all. Truth is better, every time. I often won’t process the nuances of learning until it has exhausted me. In those moments I become the spent thing.
Things don’t go back to normal because normal is a phase. Always. Whether we acknowledge the passing of normal with grief or gratitude depends on how deluded we were that it would last forever. Or that it could. Or that it should.
Study on, friends.