I was moved by Aimee’s post on Friday and wanted to continue the thread of her story. It is a simple story of life and death intertwined; of the preciousness of our lives during our brief journeys on this beautiful planet.
Over the weekend I was talking with two friends, Marcelino and his wife Paula, under our pergola in the backyard. The garden was sunny and warm, full of blossoms, tomatoes and vegetables, buzzing with hummingbirds and honey bees. We were quite content as we talked.
Two years ago, Marcelino had a terrible fall when he slipped on black ice while walking home from work. He fell backwards hard, fracturing several vertebrae in his neck. Marcelino nearly died. He isn’t paralyzed now, but after the fall, he was almost paralyzed from the neck down—every nerve going through the neck was damaged. After several serious and painful operations, he has had a long, slow recovery—from being partially paralyzed to being able to walk with a walker. He’s able to walk today with the aid of a cane. He’s endured a gradual and painful return to health.
“Your life can change with one swish of a horse’s tail,” I told him, remembering the Buddhist teaching on how quickly our circumstances in life can change. We talked of his recovery, how far he has come, and how hard it has been. His wife and family have been a tremendous support, yet it is still hard to understand these tragic and painful things that happen to us and around us.
I remembered my own brush with death many years ago and told my friends about the time when I was a young mother, and my husband, baby, friends and I went on a day trip to Tassajara Monastery in the Ventana Wilderness area of Los Padres National Forest in California, to have lunch and a hot bath in the healing springs. My dear friend, Rosy, sat next to me in the back seat. She had come to see me for the first time since she returned from London where she had been a seamstress for the Royal Opera House for several years. We were having such a great time together, laughing, and reveling in our friendship.
Rosy loved my young son and wanted to hold him as we wound down the mountain toward the monastery. Instead, I gave him to our friend in the front seat; the back seat was just too crowded and hot. Moments after passing my son over to my friend in the front seat, our car’s brakes went out and we plummeted off the cliff and down the mountainside. Rosy was killed instantly; my back and several bones were broken. My face was severely cut and bleeding. My husband was slightly injured. The baby was shaken and scared but uninjured, thank goodness, as were our friends who had been sitting in the front seat.
After the accident, I spent a month in the hospital and returned home to care for my child and heal. It took a long time to get better. But I did.
We are so fragile and life is so precious. Being aware of the finite nature of life awakens gratitude and love of life. We live our lives as if they will last forever, caught in our struggles and joys, plans and goals. It is important to be fully awake to our lives and in our lives. What happens when we remember that no one escapes death? It isn’t morbid to remember that; it is a simple truth, a wakeup call in a sense.
When a hummingbird comes to drink nectar from the feeder in the garden, I am in awe of the delicate little body filled with life’s dynamism—wings moving so fast. As I write this blog, I feel awareness and presence as my fingers move on the keyboard. I wish all of us more wakefulness, more compassion, and more ability to be fully alive for as long as we have, helping this beautiful planet and all its beings flourish.