Sunday, December 19, 2004

Watching the grass grow

When animals die here on the farm, I’m often the one who buries them (tractor, big hole, rope). I won’t do it until their bodies are cold though, because of an (until now) unquestioned belief that something of their spirit hangs around until their warmth is gone. I wonder whether this is a stupid idea, though. Maybe yes, maybe no. I don’t think there’s anyone qualified to say, and that's the beauty of it. (Doesn't it make you feel proud as a human to have this leniency?)

I like the idea of soul or spirit because it links our puny lives to a larger reality. We might not be just individual lifetimes, we might be aspects of a greater whole, working through billions of versions to get at the truth of something. Or not. I don’t know. Nobody knows. It’s one of the great questions. Are we just “me”, here and now and no further, or are we linked to something beyond our understanding? And yes, this is getting into the realms of Airy-Fairyness, so you might want to thud back to earth if it’s offending you. (Come on, though... be brave.)

There’s no question that when an animal dies, something leaves its body. Life, obviously. But what does that mean? I’ve seen a number of animals die now, though no human ones so far. Usually there is a brief moment when you think suddenly, miraculously, they’ve recovered from whatever is killing them, and they’ll be fine. Their eyes light up, their faces shine, and for that brief second your heart races. But then it’s over. They go back to suffering, and you go back to praying for their deaths, or for the arrival of the bloody vet, or a gun. And then they die. Minutes or hours or days later. Hopefully the sooner the better. I’ve seen enough horrible deaths to know that a good death is a quick one.

I don’t know what soul is. I don’t know whether we have one. All we really know is here and now, and sometimes that can feel inadequate. Maybe this is just wishing for the moon when we should really stay more firmly bound to earth. Dunno/don’t care. I’m going with the soul option, just because I can. I want to believe we’re more than just cells. I want us to be eternal. I want to believe in fate and coincidence and a higher power that’s overseeing us dopeys, and if that’s ludicrous? Fine. Ludicrous it is.

Tradition teaches that soul lies midway between understanding and unconsciousness, and that its instrument is neither the mind nor the body, but imagination. - p.xiii

The act of entering into the mysteries of the soul, without sentimentality or pessimism, encourages life to blossom forth according to its own designs and with its own unpredictable beauty. Care of the soul is not solving the puzzle of life; quite the opposite, it is an appreciation of the paradoxical mysteries that blend light and darkness into the grandeur of what human life and culture can be. - p.xix

Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life (New York: HarperPerennial, 1994, copyright 1992) ISBN: 0060165979.