Magritte – The Big Family
“I am part of the sun as my eye is part of me. That I am part of the earth my feet know perfectly, and by blood is part of the sea. My soul knows that I am part of the human race, my soul is an organic part of the great human race, as my spirit is part of my nation. In my very own self, I am part of my family.” – D.H. Lawrence, Apocalypse, 1931
A year ago this week, our family was participating in an around-the-clock vigil at home with our dear brother, who was slowly losing his grip on life due to cancer. It was naturally a difficult time in many ways, and we endured the difficult parts as best we could, while working very hard to make those days as comfortable as possible for him, and as comforting for each of us as we could. We looked for ways to brighten the room, to lift our brother’s spirits, and to keep love and joy at the forefront of every moment. We succeeded often, and even found hope in what we felt for certain were indications that our brother was still very much with us, even when he could no longer speak or even open his eyes.
Throughout our vigil, twice daily, hundreds of birds would perch on the trees outside his window, and chirp madly for a time. While he was still conscious, he loved to experience the clamor and chaos of those moments, and we found it comforting to anticipate their arrival each day, even after he seemed not to be able to notice. Shortly after enduring his last moments beside us, we all sat silently beside him as the birds arrived on queue to squire him away. It was a remarkable experience that felt like an indication of the presence of spirit.
“The quick of the universe is in our own bodies–deep in us. And as we see the universe, so it is. But also, it is much more than we ever see or can see. And as the soul changes in us–turns over with a new creative move–the whole aspect of things changes. And again we see the universe as it is. But it is not as we saw it before. It is an utterly new reality. We are clothed with a new awareness in a new world. The universe is all the things that man knows or has known or ever will know. It is all there. We only need become aware.”
– D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover
As the first anniversary of our vigil approaches, we have seen a repeat of the appearances of flocks of birds, and in these experiences we sense the presence of spirit in much the same way as we did a year ago. For my sister, it appeared as she awoke in the morning, to the sounds of innumerable birds chirping outside her window, which was opened to receive the benefit of the fresh, cool autumn air flowing in from outside. As she looked out on the scene, the birds took the opportunity to take flight as one group, and my sister was able to feel the whoosh of the air being pushed ahead of the massive momentary exodus, as it pressed against her face. For me, as I walked along the highway across from the local park, en-route to pick up what was once my brother’s vehicle from the repair shop down the street from me, my brother came immediately to mind as hundreds of birds took flight from the trees across the highway, diving and swooping in a rhythmic dance directly over my head for several minutes. I was absolutely stopped in my tracks, nearly hypnotized by the sight for several minutes. Then, all at once, they stopped and flew back into the trees across the way.
“The face is the mirror of the mind. In the human person, creation finds the intimacy it mutely craves. Within the mirror of the mind, it becomes possible for diffuse and endless nature to behold itself.” – John O’Donahue from “Anam Cara”
In my personal journal last year, I recorded this quote from my reading as I contemplated the circumstances of life at that time, and I remember well the feeling it gave me as I stepped out into the cool air, underneath blue skies, sipping on my morning coffee. I looked out at the trees, momentarily alone, pondering the sweetness of the day’s beginning, noticing the hints of color as autumn had only begun its rise to fullness. I was reminded at that time of many other moments of bliss experienced in the many natural settings of beauty in the wilderness while camping, where I “beheld creation,” and contemplated how the creation of human beings, and the subsequent development of conscious self-awareness in humans, may have been a way for a “creator” to experience his creation. What better way for a transcendent existence to cross over and “behold itself,” than to become manifest in a phenomenal existence–to create a tangible, observable, experiential place to “become,” and then to create a means of touching, observing, and experiencing that place. Once again at my brother’s side, I wrote:
“As I write, my brother sleeps peacefully beside me, and I monitor his shallow breathing with the football game on television playing unnoticed in the background. Our periodic conversations are warm and playful, and in particular moments, our happy sharing bursts into shared smiles. His medications sometimes seem to have a profound effect on his state of mind, but most of the time, he seems lucid and alert, only occasionally enduring bouts of minor confusion, as the tides of his wellness ebb and flow. My sense of the presence of his spirit never leaves me, even as his mind seems to drift away.”
Most remarkable of all is the development of a world only discernible within us–one that makes the ultimate use of the senses, impaired and imperfect though they may be, giving us important information to use in reflection. Our ability to interpret the phenomenal world through our senses is a platform from which we can build our path through life, and form a vision of that world. Our senses tell us a great deal, but everything that exists may not be apprehended through them alone. Beyond the physical world, there is much as yet unknown, and all our attempts to articulate a transcendent portion to reality still escapes our grasp, but our awareness of the transcendent, particularly when it seems to present itself so unambiguously, may only be possible to experience subjectively, and our subjective awareness only one component in the equation of eternity.
This week at the memorial for my brother, I will read these words:”
The fish in the water is silent,
the animal on the earth is noisy,
the bird in the air is singing,
But Man has in him the silence of the sea,
the noise of the earth
and the music of the air.
– excerpt from “Stray Birds,” by Rabindranath Tagore