Every evening I walk the young steer across the pasture to his pen, where I separate him from his mother so that in the morning I might take her milk. And every evening we play the same game: He ducks and dodges and feints, moves I know so well I can see them coming and match them long before they’ve arrived. He’s more than a year old, weighs a good 600-pounds, and could easily elude or otherwise overpower me, yet this lasts only a couple dozen seconds or so, until he has proved to himself that he’s at least made an effort. Then he trots complacently down the hoof-worn path directly into his pen. I latch the gate behind him and go pick blueberries.
I have been slowly reading the book Die Wise by Stephen Jenkinson. It’s a dense book, and I don’t want to say too much about it, because then maybe you’ll decide you don’t need to read it, which would mean you’d miss out on a whole lot. In short, Jenkinson makes the case that death deserves more than our culture currently allows it, that we short change the experience (and ourselves) by not fully attending to it, by refusing to face it head on: The grief, the pain, the lack of control, the simple reality of it, the inescapable truth that it is death itself that makes life so worth living. Reading it, I am reminded of my experience surrounding the death of one of my oldest and best friends (I wrote about it here). It profoundly affected my understanding of death, and of grief; it was the first time I truly understood how rich both can be, and that they do not diminish the quality of our lives, but actually enhance them. I guess that’s all I’ll say on the subject for now, except to add that there’s a short film on Jenkinson and his work called Griefwalker. It’s worth watching.
Wait, no, I do have more to say, which is that like many (most?) people, I question choices I have made, things I have done. I try to live without regret, or in a way that I think will protect me from future regret, even as I realize how absurd this is, because how can we possibly know what we might later wish we’d done differently? Yet I believe it true that it’s most often the things we don’t do that we later count among our failings, and perhaps for all of Jenkinson’s nearly 400-pages on the subject (which I’d still recommend you read), the real secret of dying wise is living wise, which is maybe nothing more than having the courage to see the chances as they arise. And then to take them.
Music: What better way to recover from death talk than a little Leonard Cohen?