I am grateful for the opportunity to spend several days in a sweet old country home about 45 minutes outside of Richmond, caring for 3 chickens and a cat, keeping the wood stove going. I love being out in the country. It is where I feel most connected – to the earth and to myself.
Yesterday was a clear, still day, warm enough for just a sweater. Perhaps a bit odd for the end of December, but pretty much everything feels a bit odd to me at this time.
While walking around the property, I paused when I heard some rustling in the grass. A little Junco bird was on the ground, and when she did not fly away I realized she must be injured. I crouched down and watched her. She could not walk and just fumbled around.
She kept spreading her wings out to the side – not like a bird would if it was getting ready to take flight. More like an opening. And she was lifting her beak up to the sky – as if she wanted to go upward. As a spiritual being as well as a human being, I wondered if she was praying…
At one point the bird stumbled up a slight incline then stopped. She raised her head so much that she seemed to arch, and then she tumbled backwards.
I kept watching, wondering if there was something to be done, or perhaps nothing to be done. Wondering if she was suffering. I could not see any wounds on her body and her wings did not look broken. It seemed she had limited energy, and was trying to keep her little black eyes open. Was she trying to live? Was she trying to die?
I was surprised when she jumped up on the wire fence. Her little talons were able to grasp the rusty wire, but she did not have the strength to hold her body up. She fell backwards, and clinging to the wire she hung upside down for a brief moment, like a child hanging from the knees on a jungle gym. It took my breath away and I quietly gasped. When the Junco could no longer hold on, she let go and fell to the ground.
Again, I wondered if there was something I should do. Was she in pain? Was she suffering? Or was it me who was struggling as I watched her struggle?
With somewhat of a plan, I walked to the house and poured some water in a bucket. Then I found a small towel in my car. I walked back to the Junco who continued opening her wings and raising her beak up to the sky. Slowly, gently I laid the towel over her little body and picked her up. She did not struggle and was so weightless that at first I thought I had not picked her up. I opened the towel just a bit and indeed there she was. I could barely see her body moving with her breath. I so wanted to touch the soft black and white feathers, but was concerned that it might stress her. I watched her eyes slowly open and close. She seemed at peace.
For a moment I held her, talking softly to her. Then I wrapped the towel around her, said a prayer and lowered her body into the water. The Junco did not struggle. I held her in the water.
I breathed and I prayed. I was aware of my breath as she let go of hers. I cried and I prayed. I felt at peace and uncertain all at once. Again the questions about suffering, causing suffering, easing suffering… Was it my place to intervene? Was I helping her or was I just making myself feel better? Was I feeling better? I could have walked away and left her to die eventually. I could have sat with her until she died in her own time, thinking that I was comforting her. I made the choice for her, and I still do not know if that was the right thing to do.
And I wondered how long it would take before her breath was completely gone and her heart stopped beating. I held my breath for as long as could, imagining that she could not still be holding her breath.
I think she had a peaceful death. I am hoping she had a peaceful death. Wondering if my presence was enough.
Lifting the Junco’s little body out of the water, I slowly unwrapped the drenched pink towel to find her wet and motionless, with glazed-over little black eyes slightly open, slightly closed, perhaps just a glint of light. I held her and prayed, then laid her under a tree, covering her with dying green brown grass.
I have been reflecting on the experiences that have helped me to wake up to the preciousness of my own life and I want to share something I wrote a couple of years ago (edited version)
If you have an intention to “wake up” as well, please consider joining me and Maia Duerr for Waking Up to Your Life, a program and learning community we created to support you to begin or deepen a practice.
Application/Registration opens December 17th
Program begins January 15th
photo by Pam Fox
I have been reflecting on how precious and precarious this life is and I am remembering an experience I had several years ago when my friend Gina and I were driving across country from the east coast to the southwest. It was early in the morning and we had just spent the night at a hotel in Wheeling, West Virginia and were heading towards Ohio. We had our tea and snacks for the day, perhaps listening to Krishna Das. Our spirits were up as we continued on our journey, with anticipation, towards Santa Fe. We were on a six lane divided highway, probably going about 65-70 mph and at this point there was little traffic on the road. To our right were woods full of trees moving towards Autumn…the sun was just rising, it was chilly and the air was a bit misty.
Ahead of me I saw something on the highway, and my mind went into high gear as I tried figure out what it was. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion as I recognized that in the road ahead were a doe and her fawn standing in the middle of the middle lane, the lane my car was in. Instantly I pushed the button to turn on my flashers as I slowed the car way down. I began praying out loud, pleading the doe to lead her fawn out of the road.
At the same time I was noticing there were a number of cars coming up behind us. I was praying that the drivers would see what was happening and would slow down. I recognized that I had absolutely no control of the situation. Where would the deer go? The doe could easily make it over the low concrete divider, but the fawn? And there were cars on the other side of the highway. Please hurry, beautiful mother….please, please, get your precious baby with her little white spots out of the road. My adrenaline was rushing, I could feel my heart beating rapidly, a knot was forming in my stomach, and my eyes were filling with tears…perhaps I was holding my breath. Gina put her hand on my leg. So much was running through my mind. I was terrified that something really awful was about to happen – that the deer and or humans were about to die. Any one of us… all of us.
In a magical, mysterious moment, all the cars slowed down. Somehow the mama deer signaled to her baby and they ran off the highway, disappearing back into the woods. In my mind all the cars came to a complete stop, but I can’t say for sure what happened. I was so startled, so awake in that moment… knowing full well that it could have been my last moment, my last breath. But it wasn’t.
Another moment of waking up was twenty some years ago when my surgeon, dear Ellen Brock told me that I had cancer, it was as if she had told me I had a cold. My mind could not comprehend the words that came out of her mouth. It wasn’t until I saw the tears in her eyes that I recognized it was more serious than a cold.
In that moment, time seemed to leap into slow motion. My adrenaline was rushing, I could feel my heart beating rapidly, a knot was forming in my stomach, and my eyes were filling with tears… perhaps I was holding my breath. Ellen put her hand on my shoulder. So much was running through my mind. I was terrified that something really awful was happening. What did this mean, to have a diagnosis of cancer? How was I going to tell my parents? What was going to happen to my life? Did it mean I was going to die? I was only 31 years old. I don’t remember praying or pleading…. The situation was beyond my comprehension and seemingly out of my control. I was in shock, scared and confused. And I was awake.
After a second surgery and chemo treatments I was skin and bones and everything seemed to take way too much energy. I spent the days on the couch, slowly coming to an understanding of what had taken place, and slowly gathering the gifts that were given to me, gifts that continue to guide me to this day. Of course there is so much more to this story (perhaps for another post), but clearly it was not my time to go, for which I am continually amazed, and truly grateful.
I will never forget that moment when a cancer diagnosis crossed my path, nor will I ever forget that moment when the doe and fawn crossed my path. Both took me to an edge. Both were wake up calls. We all have these calls each day – big and small, pushing us to the edge, urging us to awaken and not take things for granted. It seems we somehow need these reminders to wake up. I welcome the small reminders and I recognize that I don’t need to wait for a big wake up call to remember how precious this life is and that I can choose to live my life fully…. now. I can choose to wake up.
My heart is heavy and full of hope all at once as I continue to follow what the amazing Water Protectors are doing in North Dakota. There is heaviness in my heart because of how these courageous and steadfast people are being treated. There is hope in my heart because these courageous and steadfast people are not giving up. More and more Protectors are showing up at Standing Rock and those of us who are not able to be there standing next to them are sending prayers and support. Please join me in remembering them as they stand to protect the water and the earth for all of us.
None of this is new to First Nations people. They have been doing this for a very long time. What is different is the Life Force that continues to grow, connecting people from all over the world. It is time to wake up.
If you are not aware of who the Water Protectors are or what is going on at Standing Rock in North Dakota, I encourage you to explore… Here are just two sites. There are many others…
A friend just told me that she has been missing Pausing Turtle posts… I will write more soon re my journey. This will be a quick one as I am in the midst of making art, which is one of the best things in the world for me!!
Hope to see you there! Love ~ katya
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