I rose early this morning and walked out into the fog. The naked trees looked so dark covered in the grey blanket of air. The world was perfectly still. In the middle of the road a few blocks away, I found her, unmoving, wrapped in death.
Her wing shielded her head, and I wanted to believe that it was her final act on this earth, the way a superhero covers itself with its cape. A final, dramatic goodbye.
I don’t know how it happened. Perhaps she swooped down to collect something and was struck by the terrible weight of death, as heavy as a car. Perhaps she simply, suddenly dropped from the sky. Perhaps some other creature dragged her here as it went about the work of its life. I discovered her, going about the work of mine – which is simply walking through the world and taking notice.
Her feathers trailed the street, floating quietly through the fog, painting a portrait of grey on grey. I thought of petals thrown by flower girls. I thought of orange leaves in fall. I thought of the way the world continues to dance with what we leave behind. I thought of death and its terrible weight, its suddenness, its certain arrival.
No one knows exactly what death is. We all have the right to imagine it for ourselves. Maybe there is a heaven, perhaps even a hell. Maybe we are reincarnated into something better, something new. Maybe, as I believe, we’re just gone. None of it is right or wrong, and no one has the right to tell you one is right or wrong. They are simply ways of guessing, of believing we can understand something that can never be understood. We play at the edges of knowing, but really we can’t ever know. And perhaps our work depends on that uncertainty.
You can find my belief in finality depressing, but I don’t. The labels of “atheist” or “agnostic” don’t really apply. I don’t believe in an afterlife, but I believe in this life, fully, passionately, wildly. I believe the ending gives it meaning. I believe that the certainty of our mortality makes our time here precious.
And the great work of our lives is to use it. Spread open your wings and take to the sky. Fly long and far, as hard and as soft as you can, not away from things, but toward things, toward the life still open and waiting for you. Keep moving forward into that light.
Death will come – heavy and suddenly and inevitably. It will arrive too soon, no matter how prepared you are, no matter how ready you think you may feel. There won’t ever be enough time.
And maybe you find that idea depressing, but I don’t. I think this is why our time is valuable. I think this is what it means to be alive. I think this is why I awoke this morning and walked out into the foggy world. I think this is why the little bird wrapped herself so comfortably into death. She used the time she was given, however fleeting. I can only hope to be as wise.
No one knows exactly what death is, but maybe it isn’t a portrait of grey on grey. Maybe it isn’t darkness at all, but so much light, so much happiness and satisfaction with our lives, that we have to wrap our wings around us to shield our eyes. Maybe death is simply a proposition to be joyful. Maybe it is the great teacher urging us to fly.
And maybe, if we’re lucky, the world will continue to dance with the loving trail of feathers we leave behind, as soft as flower girl petals, as colorful as the leaves in fall.