I am sitting on the porch of my friends’ Tennessee home, and the breeze offers a slight chill as it plays with my hair while the lowering sun caresses my skin with warmth. A variety of birds are singing their evening songs which speak of a beautiful day blessed by sunshine and the smell of sweet grass. Several are dancing around the nearby feeder, reminding me that the term ‘eats like a bird’ doesn’t mean what most people assume. My friend lost his sweet mother last year, and this space that we are blessed to enjoy was lovingly referred to by that kind and generous woman as Mockingbird Cottage. Her gentle spirit still surrounds us in this heavenly place. and I can sense that she is near… laughing at the hungry birds at play, and recalling the way the wind once felt against her skin on a cool summer evening. She and I close our eyes and breathe deeply of this moment of shared peace and solitude. We anticipate the arrival of fireflies within the next hour.
I drove up on Friday, and the journey was pleasant as the companion I chose read to me his words of experience and wisdom with the voice of a philosopher. I downloaded required reading for my end of life doula coursework through Audibles, and Stephen Jenkinson’s voice fed my mind throughout my ten hour journey with his thoughts on palliative care from his book called DIE WISE: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul. Eight hours of reading remains, and he has already given me so much to think about… mostly about the way that death, though it is the one guarantee that comes with birth, is something that most people fear and run from. Many of his patients who chose palliative care when a diagnosis became a prognosis would later come to curse the effectiveness of their treatment, as it was keeping them alive long past their wish to continue. In other words, it may have given them more time, but it did not necessarily give them more ‘life’… just more suffering. That kind of took my breath away. It made me think more clearly about the wording I would use in my advance directive, the official forms which will state my wishes for end of life care.
It also made me think about the act of dying, and the choices one makes for how to spend their final days once a deadline has been given. And if one would choose to do things any differently, at that point, (assuming the body was able) why we would wait until we’ve been given a deadline to start living in a way that would finally feed our soul. Should we not be spending all of our days that way? I mean, the day we are born the one thing that is certain is that we will also die. It seems to me that there is always a deadline, its just that the expiration date is hidden beneath the fold of awareness.
I wonder what that might look like for me… a well-fed soul, and I believe that it looks something like sitting outside on a summer evening to hear the cacophony of birds chirping, cicadas humming, and distant dogs barking. It also looks like valuable time spent connecting with dear friends, and making new ones at a mountain art festival. It looks like smiling at the tiny green bug that just landed on the keyboard, and resting until it is ready to take flight. It looks like taking the time to dive into a topic that once felt overwhelming and frightening, so that I may one day be of service in a way that transcends and ascends my former level and ability of caring. It looks like choosing to fill the rest of my days, be they long or few, with greater purpose and meaning.
Sitting here, in this sacred space outdoors, with the spirit of this sweet lady that I was blessed to know and shall always adore, I can list the messages that nature has delivered for my inability to hear her voice. The symbolism of the mockingbird is overcoming fear. The symbolism of the hummingbird, whose presence inspired the urge to write, is lightness of being and enjoyment of life, as well as the reminder to be more present. The symbolism of the fireflies for whom we wait, is self-illumination, guidance and freedom. As I glance over my shoulder to see if they have yet arrived, I see a cardinal at the feeder and smile to myself to realize that the symbolism of this particular bird is a reminder to realize the importance of your purpose in life… while for some, it informs them of the presence of a loved one lost. She knows I’m thinking of her and that I know she is here… affirmed by a glance before me to see that cardinal making his way across the darkening yard, stopping to look back at me from a moment’s perch atop the umbrella in the yard.
I am grateful for this time that I have given myself… to explore the depths of my soul before stepping blindly into a new chapter that might be less than fulfilling, to breathe deeply with gratitude for the beauty of nature and for that which we cannot see or hear without the courage to open our hearts. After all, love is not something visible to the eye… it can only be felt with the heart. So, I dare you, dear ones to close your eyes and open your hearts. There are messages flashing before you, like the fireflies who have just arrived. I’d love for you to join me in this reverie of light and flight! Tell me… what do you see?