A lazy morning of toast and coffee—the whole day stretched out before me, unencumbered by anything that needed my attention. I watched the life in the garden wake up, greeting the new day. A mother bird fed her little one at the feeder, offering him sunflower seeds, his hungry mouth wide open. A baby bunny hopped through the fence slats and sniffed his way towards the new lettuce starts. His tall ears picked up my footsteps on the deck, and he bounded off in the direction from which he had come. Here, on the cusp of the approaching summer, new life was emerging. “It’s good to see the little ones that have come into the world,” I said to God. “It’s the beginning of their journey.”
My thoughts turned to my uncle, who is coming to the end of his life’s journey, the train bound for glory pulling into the station for him any day now. We are all just coming and going. What we choose to do with our time here is up to each of us, I thought. My uncle made good use of his time—a kind and loving man— goodness and mercy following him all the days of his life. “Welcome your good servant home, God,” I prayed. “He journeyed well.”
The baby bunny, still hungry, peeked through the fence. I called and waved to him. “Come on in; there’s plenty for everyone.” I walked inside so that he might feel safe enough to join the others in the garden— each on their journey— as we all are.
*In honor of my Uncle Charlie.
“You could use some exercise for those old bones of yours,” I said to Shakespeare, but really, It was I who needed to get out of the cabin. The past few days of wind and rain had kept us huddled by the stove for warmth. “Let’s go, boy,” I called and opened the door. We headed down the dirt road—Shakespeare sniffing new smells, and I, taking in the beauty of the woods.
“I’m happy,” I called out to God.
“I’m glad,” God replied, and playfully rumpled my hair with a sudden gust of wind.
Ahead of us, the road dipped downhill, carved out of the hillside. Exposed roots of the trees that lined the bank searched for soil that was no longer there. My mood darkened, knowing that erosion would oneday topple the trees.
“Don’t let those roots mar your happiness. The trees are aware that in time, they will have to let go,” God said.
“Are they scared?” I asked.
“Not at all,” God answered. “They trust that the earth will return them to me after they fall.”
“Like me, one day,” my voice trembled, revealing my anxiety.
God nodded. “Like you. Like everything.”
“Why?” The word rushed out of my mouth before I could stop it. Instantly, I regretted it, for who am I to question God?
“You can’t understand death, but you can understand this: be like the trees. They don’t worry about the future. Live in this moment, Sparrow, then the next. And the next. And when your last moment arrives, let go. Trust me, it will be alright,” He gently assured me.
Shakespeare let out a small bark and scampered into the thicket. I smiled. Even my dog knew to live in the moment, unfazed by the gray in his muzzle.
I reached out my hand for God to take. We walked on together, the sound of my learning-to-trust heart marking time.
Not one animal will die apart from God
I saw him when I turned the corner on the gravel road I was walking. I thought he was sleeping; his soft body stretched out, his head turned to the side. I expected he’d jump up and scamper away as soon as my footsteps grew closer. But he lay still. I knew then, from yards away, that he was dead.
“Oh, Mr. Squirrel,” I sighed, my heart filling with sorrow. “What happened to you?” Not a mark was on his chubby body, his gray fur bright and shiny. I stood for a few moments, admiring his beauty, then turned, and walked on.
“He’s safe with me, Sparrow,” God said as He made His presence known, His stride matching my own.
“I know. But life is such an amazing gift, I feel sad to see it come to an end,” I replied. God didn’t say anything more, allowing me to be present with my feelings. A gentle rain began to fall. I’d not worn a raincoat, so I took off my scarf and draped it over my head.
“This rain nourishes the tender seeds waiting to sprout. New life lies below the earth,” God explained. Mr. Squirrel’s body will return to the earth, to nourish that new life waiting to come forth.”
“It’s still a mystery to me, these seasons of life and death,” I confessed.
God reached out and took my hand. “It’s not a mystery at all. It’s love. It’s me,” He said tenderly.
We circled back toward home. When we came to the place where God will bury Mr. Squirel, we stopped. I looked once again at his beautiful body and gave thanks that he was a part of God’s love. I wished him well on his journey.
We would prefer to be out of the body and at home with God.
~2 Corinthians 5:8
“God, why do we have to die?” I asked late in the afternoon when the rain refused to stop and the sky was gray.
“The same reason why the sun sets every evening. It is the natural rhythm of things,” God said as we stood at the window together, looking out on the soggy day.
“But the sun returns. We don’t. It seems so…” I searched for the word. “Sad.”
“I can see how you could think that,” God replied. “But there is more to death than sorrow.”
“What more is there?”
“When your spirit leaves your flesh and bones for the earth to claim, there will be the joy in coming back to me,”
“That sounds lovely, but It’s still hard to let go of all we have here,” I said honestly.
“I know, Sparrow. Remember, I hung on a cross. I know what it’s like.” God reached out and wrapped His arms around me. “Don’t worry about the day you will die. Live now. And when the day comes that I send my angels for you, you’ll not be sad when I open the door and welcome you back to where you came from.”
As we looked out the window, the trees in the yard bowed in the wind. How they willingly surrendered to God’s command! I prayed with all of my heart to be like them to the end of my days.
All rivers run into the sea.
A group of pickers descended upon the orchard just as I finished my work. I stood by the window and watched them tug the pudgy bottom-heavy fruit from the trees. “I’ll miss the pears,” I said to God. I had grown used to seeing them dangling like ornaments from the trees.
“It’s their time,” God said.
“I know, everything has a season.”
That’s right,” God said. “One season fades into the next, like the rivers into the sea.”
“You’re a poet today, God!” I replied and smiled. I looked out over the rolling hills. The sun, now sinking towards the western horizon, painted the treetops orange. A lone hawk circled soundlessly above while the metronome tap, tap, tap, of a woodpecker kept perfect time. “You’re a poet every day. You must be, to create such grandeur.”
“Not everyone can see it,” God said.”Only those who aren’t frightened by impermanence can see it—those who understand that the river isn’t lost to the sea, but rather the two of them go on together, ecstatic to have finally found one other after so long apart.”
A breeze kicked up and sent leaves tumbling across the yard. “The pears may be gone, but soon, there will pumpkins” God whispered. I nodded and reached out for His hand to hold as the last picker walked out of the orchard.