Last night I was in a group yoga practice with friends, our mats formed into a circle. We were in triangle pose and I had a particularly clear view out the window of the crescent moon that was appearing in twilight sky. Coming toward it was an airplane. The plane wasn’t visible, only the path it was creating, which I could tell was going to cross just under the moon.
Stretching my arms into toward the center of the room, toward my friends, my feet anchoring me on the outside of my mat in the space that was just mine, I suddenly felt as though I could die. Not that I was going to die right then. Not that I wanted to die. But that when I die, it will be alright.
This is a feeling I get fleetingly, and it’s always so full of spaciousness and grace. A resting place. A place of peace. It’s a deep and ancient knowledge that cradles me for a moment before disappearing.
I remember being in my early twenties, newly arrived in Seattle, and standing in a feminist bookstore on Upper Capitol Hill. (I spent so much time in bookstores in Seattle in my 20s – hundreds of hours, I’d guess. It pains me to know that hardly any of those stores are there any longer, even the big ones that seemed indestructible.) I was standing by the new books table when I had the strongest knowledge that I was going to die. Again, not that I was going to die imminently, but that I would die. Everything fell away for a moment in a terrifying way. If I hadn’t had panic attacks more recently, I’d say that’s what it was; but I think it was more of an existential attack. A blackness so complete that it necessarily shifted my view of who I was. In a moment I came face to face with a reality that I had not so firmly grasped up to then. Why that moment? What triggered it? I have no idea. But it rattled me. And this was a place I’d return to throughout my twenties and into my thirties.
Now, half way into my 40s, death can make me weary and sad. I miss my father terribly – daily. When I think of leaving my kids or them leaving me, it’s wrenching. But I’m also much more at peace with the inevitability of it than I was at 23 standing in that bookstore. Just this week, death has reminded me of itself again and again. An old friend of a friend hung himself and his community has been gathering on Facebook in that very 21st century manner. Running into a dear friend and teacher at the grocery store, I noted her attire – she never wears dresses – only to learn that she’d just come from her mother’s funeral. A co-worker emailed to say she wouldn’t be at a meeting; her father had just passed. There it was, again and again, tapping me on the shoulder in case I’d forgotten.
Death holds on to our ankles and roots us here, forcing us to look at the blue sky, the crescent moon, our children, our neighbors. It anchors us so that we can reach toward love, toward the infinite. It heeds us to pay attention and drink in every gulp of this time and place, which are pinpricks in some place to big to know.