Chapter 1: Loss
On the day my son was born he was so tiny and alive! I marveled at the softness of his skin, his tiny fingers and miniature toes, and the brightness of his eyes. He grew too quickly. I often wonder where all the time went; life is like a river flowing past; no one can keep their eyes trained upon it since it is always moving. It flows away to nowhere never to return.
My son came to me one day. He was still a boy but fast becoming a man. I could tell by the look on his face that he had something on his mind. What happens to those we love when they die, he asked. Do they go to heaven?
I knew why he wondered. A boy in his class at school—his name was Eric—had been killed in a horrific accident while playing in a Little League baseball game. Another boy threw a ball to him when he wasn't ready. The ball struck Eric in the neck. He collapsed. Despite frenetic efforts to revive him the young boy died right there on the field.
I wanted to tell my son that I did not know what happened when we die; I wanted to tell him that I was not dead and only the dead knew the answer to that question. But when I opened my mouth different words emerged.
I said to him that when we die we return to the mystery from which we all come. I explained to him everything dies except that which has never been born. I told him since the earth is alive it too had once been born and one day it too would die.
I told him that though everything passes away there is that which remains. It cannot be named nor can anyone see it. It cannot be touched. It has no taste, no smell. The mystery has never been born and so it will never pass away. We are part of the mystery; nay, we are the mystery.
But I do not understand, father. Doesn't everyone die?
Come for a walk with me, my son. So he did. We walked through the apple orchard and into the forest that grew behind our farm. We spotted a pheasant making its way through the undergrowth, its mottled coloring making it difficult to spot.
I noted to my son how that pheasant had to amble along all day to find nourishment; I said how it must make its way to the creek each morning to drink, putting itself in danger of other predators that might be there as well. If it were in a coop all the pheasant's nourishment would be provided for. It would not be in any danger. Yet were we to make a trap to catch it and carry it home that pheasant would spend the rest of its days trying to escape confinement in order to regain its independence.
I explained that this is the way of the mystery.
My son's face shined as he listened to my words. I thought how precious this small insignificant moment we share is. I imagined him an old man one day explaining the mystery to his son and to his grandson. Looking into his eyes I saw all the generations looking back at me, all those who lived before us and all those who would come after. I thought how important it was that we get it right this time.
I explained to my son that what happened to our loved ones when they passed back to that mystery where we all come from did not matter as much as what happened to those left behind. Those who die had finished with their struggles. Their pain had come to an end. It was the living who had to go on even when it seemed all but impossible.
On the day my son passed away he was so broken and so still. I mourned how I would never again see his fine strong body walking the earth. At his funeral I wanted to get up to tell everyone about the wonderful times we had together. When I stood I could not speak for the lump arising in my throat choking me. Blinking through my tears I gazed out at the gathering of lovers who assembled there to see him off yet I could not see anyone. While they celebrated his life I died along with my son.
Yet I go on.
The earth will one day be a dead empty husk rolling through the darkness of heaven. The sun will no longer shine. The stars will blink out. The rains will stop, the fires will fade, and the winds will cease to blow. None of these things are eternal. How is it possible for me?
What we can point to are but logs consumed by fire but that fire has moved on; we cannot know that it is over or ended.
I follow the mystery. I am at one with the source of experience. I am virtuous and so I experience virtue. But those who lose the way to the source and instead cling to what they know are lost.
When I am at one with the mystery, experience welcomes me. When I am at one with virtue, the virtue is always there. When I am at one with loss, the loss is experienced willingly.
To talk little is natural. If I do not trust enough I will not be trusted.
This is the way of the universe.