Monday, September 26, 2011

On Sweet Kitties and Sacred Texts

I had to put my cat down today. The very lovely Francesca - long black hair, gold-green eyes, regal bearing and sweet nature - lived a good life for 12 years, but has had a rough time the last couple of months. It wasn’t an easy decision – rather more on the gut-wrenching side, really – but it came to seem pretty inevitable. She was suffering, and this was the last act of kindness that I could show her.

But it comes with a weight of guilt, too. I tried many things, dealt with the chaos that her illness and behavior brought into my house, and then tried many more things; still, I am left with the question of whether I did enough, tried enough, waited enough. After all, when it comes right down to it, I made the decision that another being – and a sweet and loving one at that – should die.

As it happens I was working on the Bhagavad Gita today, and the story told there is still singing in my head. As Arjuna looks out over the field of soldiers arrayed against him and his army, he knows that all the leaders of the other side are friends and family members, people he has loved his whole life. He is faced with the impossible choice to either kill those he loves or to let tyranny and greed rule. In total despair at the choice that is no choice, he falls down, wanting to die rather than to fight. But Krishna, his charioteer and counselor (and, of course, the divine Lord of all the world), tells him that his sorrow is sheer delusion: the Self, the truest part of all beings, can never be born, never die. It exists from before all time, and for all time. It may change bodies, but the sheer universal magnitude of its existence is never diminished, never for a second. Arjuna must understand that he cannot kill those he loves, because what is truest about them cannot be killed. Krishna tells him,

Death is certain for the born;
for the dead, rebirth is certain.
Since both cannot be avoided,
you have no reason for your sorrow.

Before birth, beings are unmanifest;
between birth and death, manifest;
at death, unmanifest again.
What cause for grief in all this?
                        Bhagavad Gita 2.27-28 (Mitchell translation)

These words created thousands of years ago speak to me today, tonight, where I am right now. All beings that I love will die; all beings that I love will be reborn. I will die and be reborn. Every tree, every blade of grass, every brick or lightbulb or piece of paper is created and then dies or is destroyed, giving rise to something else. Every thought, even, serves its purpose for a time, and then its time passes, when it gives rise to a new thought. And if we move from the manifest to the unmanifest, what indeed is the cause of grief? Life and death are merely different points on the same circle, and that circle includes everything that ever has or ever will exist.

Tonight I mourn the passing of the sweet little kitty who gave me her kind companionship for 12 years. And I thank her, and the universal love that holds us all, for reminding me that neither guilt nor grief is ever the end of the story, because this story has no end.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Pulling Against the Undertow

Maybe it’s the change of weather that’s got me feeling off-kilter. Maybe it’s getting less sleep now that I’m having to follow a school schedule. Maybe it’s the reports of friends and family members who are weathering emotional storms. Maybe it’s the chaos and cruelty of this world of suicide bombings and government killings and hordes of natural disasters.

Or maybe it’s none of these, just the thoughts in my own head swirling and whirling into a darkness of its own making. Whatever the cause, I feel the tendrils of that darkness around the edges of my world.

That darkness, it doesn’t scare me, but I think that maybe it should. It comes as an old friend, and it comes feeling like truth, like the water’s undertow. I feel its pull, and all I have to do is to let go, stop fighting, and it will ease me under the water away from the chaos and cruelty. In lighter moments I know I have to work against its pull, but always, always the easier path is just letting the water carry me under. It’s so easy. And that, I think, is why it should scare me.

But that ease – it’s not truth, just as the darkness is not truth. I’m working with the Biblical prophets right now, who were faced with a desolation I have never known, the destruction of their homes and dismantling of their culture. In the midst of the devestations coming to them from the outside in the form of armies and exile, they called for their people to look inside, into their own actions and intentions, for the cause. They thundered against those who tried to use ritual as a magic charm to ward off evil and railed against the lack of compassion they beheld all around. They saw the darkness and they called it by name – even when the name was their own.

The darkness, though, was never the final word for the prophets. They saw clouds of despair enveloping everything they knew and they acknowledged their complicity in bringing on those clouds, but they also looked beyond the despair, and to something more than hope – to a certainty that one day the darkness would lift and the truth, which is like joy, would once more be visible. The darkness, they saw, wasn’t the point of the story, just a plotline development designed to move the story forward to its inevitable ending in the presence of God.

The thing is, I know that’s the ending of my story, too, and of all stories. My old friend the darkness may come and go, I may give in to the undertow or I may fight it, but through paths and plotlines that I cannot now fathom, inevitably, inescapably, the story will end in truth and in knowledge. It will end in the presence of God, because that’s where the story always is anyway, whether I can see it or not.