591 What you learn from living in a circular home is there is no beginning and no end
Day 591 Wednesday, October 26, 2021
what you learn from living in a circular home is there is no beginning and no end. To live well you must comprehend that, and there will be peaceful days.
When Once I Raked the Leaves a reflection by Brother Toby
There always seem to be two sides to nature. Substantial rain has been falling and our brown ground in Northern California will soon be covered with its green cloak. That will be nice and much safer for us. On the other hand, we will lose some of the beauty that surrounds us now.
Most of our deciduous trees are covered with magnificent autumn colors. But if you sit and watch one of these trees for a long time, you will see the occasional leaf slowly descend to the ground. We are told that strong winds will be coming our way. That could mean that all these magnificent leaves will form a multicolored carpet at the base of the trees.
Now a quick turn to something many poets have urged us never to forget. We spend much of our life climbing a ladder that takes us from one new experience to another. If we are lucky, that means ever greater experiences. But at some point in each life, things change and the older we get the more we return to where we began. T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) puts it this way near the end of his wonderful poem Little Gidding:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Now back to the leaves. I sit and watch someone else rake them up, but I remember past times when young children would jump into the leaves I would rake. Now they are parents themselves and have children jumping in their piles of leaves. They are watching as their kids become half buried in the piles. I'm sure those parents remember the smell of the leaves and how it felt to be surrounded by an autumn cocoon.
Under one of my favorite trees someone has left a heap of leaves. I hope she or he does not return to take it away for I noticed that a lizard and probably other small cousins seemed delighted to have found a cozy winter home. A friend wrote me recently that when a mutual acquaintance had reached an advanced age he dropped everything and focused only on music and nature. I think I am headed in that direction.
The little creatures I see around the leaves instruct me on how to move through these years of aging. The lizard has remarkable courage. He or she will stretch out and relax in full sight of predator birds. A friend said maybe lizards don't taste good. I think it's more than that. These little cousins have decided it's better to enjoy a deeper moment of life than to spend that moment fearing death.
Then there are the butterflies that appear around the fallen leaves. I'm told that some of them have only a few days to live but they truly make the most of every moment of life. I've never known anyone who could ignore a butterfly. Their lives may be short but that short life is glorious! There are also birds scratching in the pile of leaves. Many have come to escape cold or smoke from other places. Some have very little idea of what a human might be. A number of times I have come toe to toe with a little bird staring up at me with curiosity. And whatever they are doing, these birds provide some of the music that is so essential to our existence.
Now another jump —I have also reached the age where I see things. Or more accurately, when I think I see things. On my left side I will often see a transparent figure which my mind immediately converts into a two or four-legged companion or soul mate. Often they no longer walk the planet with me. This fleeting presence brings me an extraordinary moment of spiritual peace. I could consider that I have become an amazing visionary like Julian of Norwich (1343-1416) , or Black Elk of the Oglala Sioux (1863-1950). But I know that I am not such a person. One problem is that often my “vision” is of a cat. I haven't visited my eye doctor since COVID began and I think what I see is probably more the result of a cataract than a mystic gift. Nonetheless I appreciate these fleeting glimpses of what I have so valued in my life.
There is something else about returning to the place where we started and knowing it for the first time. As I step out of the metaphoric pile of leaves and start climbing up that metaphor of the ladder of success, I realize how brave my parents were and I suspect it was the same with most of your parents. The fact is that the ladder we are climbing can be pretty rickety. Sometimes a rung breaks unexpectedly.
Pandemics are an example. My dad was born in 1899 and my mom in 1904. The Spanish Flu of 1918 was deadly. My grandparents protected my mom and dad, who remembered what to do when the Polio epidemic started spreading in our area in 1941. I was 10 years old but I remembered my parent’s approach not only in safeguarding me but in helping families where children ended up in iron lungs. Much of what I learned from my mom and dad was at the core of my response to the AIDS pandemic. '
Whatever I may have done to help children and adults at that time was very much influenced by what I remembered from my parents. I've lived long enough to see my own children, who grew up in our house with HIV/AIDS positive children, respond to COVID 19 in such a caring and compassionate fashion.
Alone with this raked up heap of autumn leaves, as the sun is setting, I think of the importance of the Healing Circles among our indigenous people. Many years ago as a young lawyer in the Northwest I represented a band of the Yakama people opposed to an action by the Corp of Engineers. There were many opposing views among the Yakama about what they should do. We all sat in a giant circle on the banks of the Columbia River.
The talking stick was passed to the left around the circle and each person who had something to say said it. Then it passed again from person to person and no one said anything. There was a very harmonious feeling but as my friend whispered to me that it was time for all of us to leave, I was confused. What were we going to do? What had been decided? I looked around. People were embracing each other. My friend told me that the decision had been made — with my help they would resist the government.
Years later, when I was going through the Navajo Nation, a woman told me that the government had given her a house with square corners. She did not like it. All her long life she had lived in a round hogan, with the opening in the east to catch the morning sun.
She told me what you learned from living in a circular home is there is no beginning and no end. To live well you must comprehend that, and there will be peaceful days.
Perhaps occasionally the same spiritual lessons can be learned from contemplating a pile of raked leaves.
- Brother Toby
Announcements and Video Links to Future Church presentations:
Here are links to the speakers at the presentation by Future Church on "Politics and the Pulpit: The Intersection of Faith and Public Life."
Below are the links to the final awards presentations and remarks from Chloe Becker and Sister Helen Prejean as well as last week's keynote presentation from Massimo Faggioli, Ph.D.