Treading lightly the path to enlightenment.

Posts tagged ‘death’

A letter from the Governor of New York State

Dear readers: I live in “Upstate” New York, about 50 miles west of the state capital of Albany. New York City is about 170 miles away. Still, we are all New Yorkers. New York City, New York country, all of the United States, the western hemisphere, the rest of the world…we are all citizens of this planet. We all share in the pain. As Governor Cuomo put it, “…we know that ultimately, terror will not change New York. We will not be deterred. New Yorkers continue to be New Yorkers, and we will not change our lives and let terror win.”

-Paz 

Fellow New Yorker, 

In the aftermath of yesterday’s cowardly act of terror in lower Manhattan, I speak on behalf of all New Yorkers in saying that our thoughts and prayers are with those whose lives were lost, their families, and those who are still recovering.

Our first responders did an extraordinary job. We have the finest emergency personnel on the globe. They work with skill, speed and discipline to keep New York safe yesterday and every day, and we are thankful to them.

New York is an international symbol of freedom and democracy. This can make us a target for those who oppose these values. But we have lived through this pain before, and we know that ultimately, terror cannot change New York. We will not be deterred.

We go forward together and we go forward stronger than ever. New Yorkers will continue to be New Yorkers, and we will not change our lives and let terror win. We are smarter, stronger, and better than those who seek to harm us.

Ever Upward,

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

Bone White Moon

 

Little stir has the air,

Yet a great noise it makes

as it rattles – like  bones –

The leaves on dry skeleton trees.

A veil of vapor rises

From a bog not far away,

Like a specter drifting skyward,

Aloft on nightly haunts.

Underfoot the leaves crunch,

Arid and bleached,

Like the dry, taut skin

of Rigor Mortis.

 

Alone in the sky flies a

Bone White Moon,

Peering out from behind

Passing shrouds.

Silent, and steadfast,

As The Reaper.

———————–

photo-supervisor

Photo Supervisor

Happy Halloween!

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Life and Death and Pain and Compassion in My Cosmos

Sasha In The Wonder Woods

The Wonder Woods beckoned on this perfect September day, and Sasha and I agreed we should be in them.

A lovely walk ensued, up Nishan’s Road, through the Avenue of The Pines, east past the hilltop camp site, past Chuy’s Trail, and down to The Wonder Woods. Heading west on the home leg, I turned onto Thursday Trail, camera in hand, ready to try to capture the soul of this place. To try in vain to produce a two-dimensional image that will in some measure do justice to the overwhelming peacefulness and beauty of Nature’s World.

 

Not ten steps down Thursday Trail, I spotted a chipmunk, motionless, in the center of the footpath. If you spend much time outdoors, particularly wild places, it’s not unusual to approach an animal so quickly and silently that the napping or distracted creature is suddenly aware of your presence. I watched a squirrel a good long time one day afield, twenty feet in the air, napping. His head rested on folded forelegs, back legs dangling from the branch the way children hang their feet in a pool. I watched a long while wondering if the squirrel was not in fact dead. Never did know. An hour later, the animal hadn’t moved. Next day, of course, was gone. Did he awaken and return to his life, or did his corpse fall to the ground?

More than once I’ve found a dead mouse or mole, lying dead in the grass along a trail. I’ve wondered how they died, and why here? Things need to die on a daily basis, and must fall somewhere. I usually presumed it was a matter of time before a scavenger would come along. A recycling in Nature’s Way.

I returned my focus to the still chipmunk. Rustling and movement did not disturb it. It was not asleep. I pondered about that which may have befallen him. I mindlessly nudged the tiny animal with the toe of a shoe. The chipmunk rolled over a bit, and that’s when I discovered the cause of death. I’ve seen (and smelled) a lot of dead things in my time, but this was a first. The chipmunk’s abdomen was unusually distorted, and enlarged several times normal size.

The Still Chipmunk

At its softest underside, below the intestines, parasitic worms could be seen, their heads emerging from the white fur-covered flesh. This parasite grows to larval stage inside the host, then bores its way through the wall of flesh and to the outside world, to begin the cycle anew. This was a bit shocking and grotesque. The sudden, unexpected discovery, a phenomenon hitherto unwitnessed, and taking place at the expense of this adorable little rodent, whose species I like and admire.

Then the animal moved. Just a short stroke of two paws, barely a movement, followed again by stillness. Knowing what I do of these things and having an appreciation for the natural order, I understood that this must have been a painful course for this little mammal. The parasites literally eating the host alive as they grow and break out. Life and death in the same stroke.

I then entered into a dilemma, a personal conflict. I was almost immediately compelled to kill the chipmunk, to “euthanize” it, to end its suffering. As half of my mind raced through potential actions to dispatch the animal, the other half of my brain was arguing that I must not interfere. There were a number of tenets to prevent me from interfering with this natural occurrence.

First, there is the Armchair Zen Universalism, which regards all things in the universe to be natural and of equal significance. These things don’t always align with the over-thought and over-emotional human animals. The parasite worms have as much right to their natural course as anything else. Secondly, as a naturalist, photographer and sportsman, it’s a big no-no to interfere with whatever you are witnessing. I’m certain I don’t have the mettle or the stomach of the best wildlife photographers and cinematographers, who can cleave to this rule. Even as they watch a fox snatch a gosling from terrified parents, or see a baby gazelle grabbed by a crocodile, bleating and flailing as its mother watches helplessly, silence falling as the gazelle is dragged to its drowning.

The gazelles and geese of this world are cute and soft and sweet in those Disney-reinforced human perceptions. Still the fox and the crocodile and flesh-eating parasites have the same place in the cosmos as geese and gazelles, chipmunks, and me.

“Killing the chipmunk is judgement” I say to myself. “That would be deciding the chipmunk is more worthy than the worm.” What I feel is “Save the warm fuzzy mammal from suffering!”. What I can read is the rule: “DO NOT INTERFERE”.

I walk away conflicted, nearly sick to my stomach over the dichotomy of emotions. After the walk, I could not stop thinking of the chipmunk, in pain and dying, alone in the grass. As I started mowing I reassured myself that it is the natural order of things, and a scavenger has probably made a meal of the rodent, worms included. I could not let go of the obsession, the compulsion. As I mowed the Wonder Woods Trail, I turned into Thursday Trail, sure the animal would be gone.

It was not.

Surely its suffering must be over, surely it must be dead by now.

It was not.

I spent quite a few minutes determining it was not. At first I thought what I’d mistaken for respiration was simply the undulating worms moving beneath and with the animal. As I watched, hopes were dashed as I discerned a rhythm of shallow breaths.

“That’s enough!” my human brain said. This thing doesn’t need to remain alive. The parasites have matured and odds are they would not be harmed. I thought, even looked around a bit, for a rock and a sturdy limb to crush its skull. Another thought, perhaps drive over it with the mower. But that wouldn’t guarantee a kill and would also destroy the worms. I thought of returning to the house and fetching a twenty-two rifle to dispatch the thing.

I stopped and took a deep breath of zen. “Let the cosmos handle it.” I said aloud. I can’t understand everything that goes on in the cosmos. I left the tiny microcosm, that finite piece of the universe where this natural order will be left to itself. I could not shake the scenario from my head or heart, and it’s three days hence now.

The Circle

The same day, I talked to my neighbor, Betsy. Last week, the Cosmos and natural order came to call on her. As she reached down into some vegetation in her landscaping, a mink leaped up and bit her, sinking its teeth into the soft web of flesh between the thumb and forefinger. Panicked, the animal would not let go. Betsy ran next door to Tom & Lynn’s, banging on the door, bloody, yelling “Help! Help!”.

A minor chaos ensued, Tom donned gloves and grabbed tools. Nothing would get the mink to release its grip, and in fact it adjusted and re-sank its teeth for a firmer hold. Finally, Tom wedged its jaws apart with a screwdriver, and ultimately dispatched the animal with a hammer blow. Now, a week later, Betsy shows me the teeth marks in her hand, relates to me the news that the animal was tested, and was not rabid. We speculated as to why, then, the mink would not loose its hold and run away.

Betsy brought my cosmic dilemma full circle. After being attacked by a wild animal, bitten, in pain, bearing fear of rabies. After a chaotic story of noisy panic, trying to pry the animal off of her.

“It had to be tested for rabies,” Betsy concluded. “Still, I felt bad that we had to kill it.”

Southbound

Seek peace,

And balance of life and death and pain and compassion, here in this wondrous cosmos.

 

Paz

 

Lightkeeper

Lake Light

I am the Lightkeeper.

I claim no special skill or training.

I did not build the lighthouse, or the light.

It is my duty, my responsibility, to keep the lamp lit

For those whom I have not met and may never meet.

 

I am not a sailor.

Don’t know how to hoist the mainsail or tack to the west.

 

I am not a whaler.

Have never thrown the harpoon, know nothing of the harvest of oil.

 

I am not a shipwright.

Can’t calculate her draft or build a transom.

 

I am not the Captain.

Cannot plot our course or stare down the dangers.

 

I know only darkness pierced by the beacon.

I know this craggy point like the lines on my face.

I know the high and low tides, the summer storms, winter’s fury.

I know the cries of the shipwrecked, calling into the night.

 

I know of rocky shores and the ocean’s rage.

I know of smashed and abandoned skeletons

Of ships piloted by

Those that did not see.

 

Did not see the shore.

Did not see the waves crashing and foaming at the bluff.

Did not see the light.

 

“Here! Here is the light!” I shout at the

Top of my lungs only to have my calls

Drowned out by the roaring surf.

 

I am only the lightkeeper.

Despite my bellowing and tears

I cannot save those

That will not see the light.

 

I cry at the dawn, as I douse the light,

For those that will never see it.

 

——————————————————–

Couldn’t we shine?

I’m rolling all my Golden Moments into one.

Gonna shine like the sun,

One last summer day.

Shine like the lighthouse,

One last summer night.

See me 

Flashing On,

Flashing Off,

Fading away.

 

“Lighthouse” – James Taylor

 

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Bone White Moon

Moonrise

Moonrise

Little stir has the air,

Yet a great noise it makes

as it rattles – like  bones –

The leaves on dry skeleton trees.

A veil of vapor rises

From a bog not far away,

Like a specter drifting skyward,

Aloft on nightly haunts.

Underfoot the leaves crunch,

Parched and bleached,

Like the arid, taut skin

of Rigor Mortis.

Alone in the sky flies a

Bone White Moon,

Peering out from behind

Passing shrouds.

Silent, and steadfast,

As The Reaper.

photo-supervisor

Photo Supervisor

Happy Halloween!

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

White Butterfly

Spirit

Spirit

Like the white butterfly

you came into my life

dancing about a wandering course gleefully,

occupying the senses totally.

Silently, the butterfly

flies on,

and I am left smiling.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

The Circle Closes

I see the world, constantly in motion, as concentric and overlapping circles. The cycles of life, construction and decay, winters and summers, birth and death. By definition, a circle must be closed.

Anyone that has read a number of posts on Armchair Zen will know that my constant companion on my path to peace is my ever-present and loyal friend Chuy the Wonderdog.

It is with a heavy heart that I must inform you of Chuy’s passing. After 15 years, 6 months and 21.25 days, my dear furry friend has laid down his burden. Nothing can hurt him now.

Chuy The Wonderdog 2001 - 2016

Chuy The Wonderdog
2001 – 2016

 

Summers and winters, through sun and rain and snow, we shared our path. Countless silent hours immersed in one another’s company. Bonds and promises unspoken. No need to speak.

Many people mourning the loss of a dear animal friend will extol their virtues and claim they were the “best dog ever”. In Chuy’s case, it’s simply the truth. I have learned so much during our time together, and he influenced my thinking, my spirit, my soul.

I have had the privilege of canine companionship my entire life, and can attest to the fact that this was a very meaningful, very special friendship, the likes of which I have never known, nor am I likely to ever know again. It will be two weeks tomorrow since his death, and this is the first day I’ve made it through without tears for my sweet puppy. I had to wait to try to compose a blog post, as I knew my head would be clouded with emotions, fond memories, mourning and missing him.

It is he and our relationship that shaped the way I would navigate this, the final step in our journey. While my heart grieves for itself, my own selfish senses of loss and loneliness,  my spirit has taken flight, and soars among the clouds, among the heavens, with my little angel puppy.

Thoughts, feelings and words came streaming through my mind since the day he died. All of the lessons he has taught me, the gifts he has bestowed upon me. Our silent covenant that we would never think of this day, but live each day together cleaving to every moment. It is he that got me through my worst week in ten years.

Love is a miraculous thing, that fills a space that did not exist before it came. The space remains, filled with joy, even after our loved one leaves us. There are bonds that transcend space and time, and even life itself. My spirit will ever be shaped by him.

 

We cannot shield and protect our loved ones from The Big World.

We must teach them well.

On balance, life is a wondrous thing, liberty is priceless.

Love and joy, in the end, win out over pain and sorrow.

 

I leave you now with a lesson he has taught me. A quote from the book we wrote together. It’s titled:

“Woof” (Translation: Chow Zen)

All of my life I was told “Thunder can’t hurt you.”

That never stopped me from being terrified by it.

Spare people such senseless jabber.

Hold them, and tell them

“I’m right here.”.

It is truly the only solace you can provide.

– Chuy The Wonderdog

Sleep, Little One

Sleep, Little One

Be at peace, all you fragile hearts.

Love really does conquer all.

 

Paz

I’m Still Here

Note To Self

Note To Self

I have a Post-It note on the dashboard of my car. Actually, I have a number of sticky notes on the dashboard of my car. Lists of things to do, list of things to procure, a list of the lists…

So this particular Post-It says simply “I’m still here”.

Driving home one day, focused on the highway and car bumpers and signal lights and tandem trucks in the center lane, my Armchair  Zen broke through the hypnotic madness, and suddenly I noticed: there are trees and sky and grasses and birds out there!

In a fit of personification I imagined Nature, the cosmos, the world, looking amused at my sudden awakening, saying calmly “I’m still here.”

Days within this accursed brain are filled with the false reality of our modern world.

Alarm clock and coffee maker, car and commute, meetings and colleagues, business and personal.

Inventory to count, payroll to approve, stock order to complete.

Opening windows sealed for the winter, venting the basement, building a fence for the new pen.

The bank, the bills. Readying for our trip to Plymouth. Preparing for camping at the lake.

Washing the boat, repairing the transom board (and seats while I’m at it).

Replacing the mower deck on the John Deere, getting the mowing done before the trip, before the rain.

Doing, doing, doing…

All the while, she waits patiently. Actually, she’s not waiting at all, Miss Nature. She’s carrying on. Churchill would be proud.

“I’m still here.” she says. Not rushed or pressured or impatient. Not relaxed or jovial or patient. Simply “here”.

Nature is my rock, so to speak. Nature is the constant. The unmovable object coupled with the unstoppable force.

We can live naturally. Be nudists, eat all organic food. Nature doesn’t care, she simply carries on.

We can pollute the planet with chlorofluorocarbons, acid rain, nuclear fallout, plastic shopping bags and water bottles.

Nature doesn’t care. She will simply carry on. She’ll clean up our mess after we’re gone.

I think of this often. The day will come, a thousand years or a million, or maybe three hundred?

The parasites known as Homo sapiens will follow the path of every other species on this planet, and one day exist no more.

And whatever is here then, or whomever, or nothingness, will be greeted with the same, simple, calming Mother’s voice.

I’m still here.”

Hey, Plato. I'm still here, too.

Hey, Plato. I’m still here, too.

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Spirit Of Frosty

Our Holiday Greetings

Our Holiday Greetings

It occurred to me just how much I admire Frosty The Snowman, and his philosophy on life. Well, life as it is to an inanimate object, or in this case a fictional character who is also an inanimate object. This is personification at it’s best, I suppose.

If you’re not familiar with the children’s tale, here are the Cliff’s notes:

Kids build a snowman and find a silk top hat to put on his head. The top hat has some magic in it, and this animates the Snowman, whom the kids have named Frosty. He springs to life exclaiming “Happy Birthday!”. Yes, it’s a Christmas-season tale, but it is Frosty’s birthday, after all.

Frosty plays and has fun with the kids until he begins to melt. The story is based on the song, I think, and the animated cartoon special picks up the story where the lyrics left off.

In the song, Frosty waves goodbye as he melts, says “Don’t you cry!” to the kids, and “I’ll be back again someday.”.

In the TV special, one of the children is heartbroken at the thought of Frosty’s departure, and adventure ensues as the little girl tries to get a six-foot snowman to the North Pole before he melts.

In the song, the lyrics state “Frosty the snowman knew the sun was hot that day. So he said ‘Let’s run and have some fun now, before I melt away.'”

Now there’s the spirit I admire. Frosty has this little window of life, knows he’s terminal, and instead of spending all his time worrying about how he can be cured and prolong his life, he decides to enjoy it before it’s gone.

 

The cartoon special takes it further, as the little girl becomes obsessed with “rescuing” the snowman from his natural demise. He’s fine until the human tries to “save him”. Only when pitted against or seen from the human girl’s perspective does Frosty’s limited existence become viewed as problematic. They spend their last days together in agony. Problems getting transportation, a magician trailing them, trying to steal the hat, the girl starts suffering from hypothermia following the snowman into the arctic. Ultimately, circumstances conspire and the girl is forced to watch Frosty’s destruction before her very eyes. *

I’m adopting Frosty’s original spirit. Life will come and go whether it’s on a snowman’s timeline or a human man’s time line.

I say let’s run and have some fun!

Before I melt away.

Seek Peace,

 

Paz

 

* Calm down. The girl isn’t real, she’s in a cartoon. And Frosty is magic. Before the kid stops crying, a freezing wind blows Frosty back together and he comes back to life, exclaiming “Happy Birthday!” once again. Happy ending, although it does prove the fruitlessness of the child’s work and worry.

Love Is Forever

Wynonna Judd recorded a song in 1993 entitled “Only Love”. The lyrics refer to the flags flown on a ship’s mast, often called pennants, though historically, they’re called pennons. Flags indicate a ship’s activities, such as commissioning, religious services being conducted or inviting officers for drinks in the wardroom.

Out of all the flags I’ve flown,

one flies high and stands alone.

Only Love.”

As far as I can see, the lyrics continue, on this island of green, I can put my trust in just one thing.

Only love sails straight from the harbor.

Only love will lead us to the other shore.

These lyrics may have been written by an Armchair Zen Master, or perhaps they just sounded good and fit the meter. Somehow, it seems a deep level of philosophy is conveyed.

Peaceful waters, raging sea,

It’s all the same to me.

I can close my eyes and still be free.

When waves come crashing down, 

Thunder all around,

I can feel my feet on solid ground.

I like the metaphors of the boat, the sea, the threatening weather. In the first verse:

I’ve sailed a boat or two, on the wild blue.

Yonder do dreams rarely come true.

It’s not often you’ll hear poets come out and say that “dreams rarely come true”. But it’s truth.

How can love be forever, you may ask. Isn’t that one of the great heartbreaks of life, losing those we love?

Love is not something that comes and goes. We’re talking about real, honest-to-goodness love here, not infatuation, obsession, fascination. Love is kind of a magical thing, a wonderous thing. While other children don’t know me from Adam, might even be afraid of “the stranger”, my kids and grandkids love me deeply.

It’s a wonderful and predictable thing with babies. Being the grandfather, I could only see the babies intermittently. A holiday here, a visit there, an afternoon of babysitting. At first, baby sees me only as not-mommy-or-daddy, and that’s all that counts. Nothing but mommy and daddy will do for those first few months. Before too long, after witnessing the same wide grin and squeaky “It’s Pop Pop!” greeting, complete with hand gestures, baby begins to recognize me. Then, somewhere around the six month mark, suddenly baby remembers me! My ear-to-ear grin is met with a wiggling toothless smile, and we officially love one another.

Love is forever. It doesn’t die when those we love die.

I love my departed mother as much today as I did when I was a child. Perhaps not more than my younger self, but in a way deeper, broader. I know not only the rigors of raising children as she did, but by now appreciate the fashion in which we were raised. Safety and security, fun and wonder, guidance, support, laughter and hugs. Coursing along through my life I’ve had to come to recognize and appreciate the other aspects of adulthood which she navigated. Loss. Death. Insecurity. Divorce. Illness. Tragedy. Gone a decade now, I think of her as often as when she was living. At crossroads and challenges, I’ll often listen, trying to imagine the things she would say to me on the occasion. At times, she is still my mentor, as I ask myself “What would Marie do?”. She was absolutely decisive.

 

My Dad, Mom, sister & me. Circa 1966.

My Dad, Mom, sister & me.
Circa 1966.

 

My dear friend Richard died, just a couple of weeks ago. We met through work, lived our lives in parallel, raising kids, buying cars, high school graduations, weddings, grandchildren. We spent about seventeen years together, a better record than many marriages! We spent a lot of time together on the road. Shared some philosophies. We were sometimes mistaken for brothers.

Love is forever. It doesn’t die when those we love die.

My grandpa, the original Pop Pop (from whom I take the sobriquet), has been gone for more than twenty years. I never heard his voice raised. Never heard him utter a profanity. He was the gentlest and kindest, most patient person I’ve known throughout the course of my 56 years. With him, I felt secure and loved. My mother’s father, he was the next best thing to mom, almost equal in my book. I find I love him no less today than I did when he was with us on the planet.

Love is forever.

 

Pop Pop, Nana, my sister, and me. Circa 1970.

Pop Pop, Nana, my sister, and me. Circa 1970.

 

As the road behind me grows longer with each passing year, I’ve come to know the simple sense behind a life with an end. While there are babies born to bring me toothless smiles, and there are beautiful young people standing together promising love ’til death, while there are green springtimes, bright summers and glorious crystal winters to look forward to, there will also be sorrow. There will be loss and pain and hardships to witness, presuming life continues as it always has.

It’s comforting to have all that love stacked along the road. Up the hill or down the hill, I am bounded by those who love me on every side. My heart is filled with the love of all the dear ones I am now honored to see in the flesh, and also with the love of all those that have gone before me, to the resting place where dreams do come true. Love is something that comes out of nowhere and fills a space that didn’t exist. It’s free to give and never runs out.  Another song, Minutes to Memories, by John Mellencamp, puts it this way:

My family and friends are the best things I’ve known,

Through the eye of the needle, I’ll carry them home.

Love is forever.

 

And of all the flags I’ve flown,

One flies high and stands alone.

Only love.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

 

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