Wednesday, 31 October 2012


Death and Life
A Wisdom Story of Hope 

From a tale I heard once

In a place that is not this place, there is night; the longest of nights. This place has been abandoned by the day; by the light; by all that has comfort and warmth.

The land is coal and ebony on obsidian. Raven clouds streak across a stygian sky – starless, moonless.  You may stare; but it is your heart that sees, not your eyes.

The night is relentless; arctic winds slice the landscape raw. Tops of hills reveal skeletal trees, heads bowed before the ruthless zephyrs. Their silhouettes, clawed hands imploring, seeking to escape an early grave. Seeking, but all too late; life has gone.

Yet, the heart sees…what? A rhythm moving against death’s surge; but slow…so slow.
The heart sees… a being, a creature, a man. An old man, as black and as dark as pitch; rough carved from slate; a semblance of a body; ancient bones as spare and as twisted as the branches he clings to; eyes rheumy, clouded, barely open.  Surely near death? Near, but not dead.

Will… from where?

Strength…from where? 

A heartbeat forces a breath, persuades the hand to reach forward; to grasp the next branch; to pull forward; to rest; to breathe; to begin again. Slowly, so slowly, he achingly drags himself from branch to branch, tree to tree. Gasps of life defying the banshee moans.  Heartbeat by heartbeat the old man creeps through the landscape.

At the top of a hill, he stops, anchors himself against the body of a stunted tree and lifts his head. The eyelids barely open any wider, he seems to be scenting the air as much as seeking, but perhaps it is his heart that sees, for there, far, far in the distance - not black. A shade; a gleam; a light; a hope. The old man gathers the hope and places it carefully in his heart. And begins again; a heartbeat; a breath; the hand reaches forward. No faster, for the old man is exhausted through to the marrow of his bones; but, with hope, the heart is determined not to fail.

Time creeps; breath follows breath, grasp follows grasp. Hope grows. The glimmer becomes a glow held steady – a window? Closer, closer; a child’s cutting of a house, imagined against the slate sky.  The tree line fails and now he must crawl, digging bony fingers into dead grasses, razor edged, tearing into the creases of his palms. No matter, all he has is given to the light, believing that, even from here, he can feel the warmth of a fire, the welcome of a hearth.

Finally, his hand touches stone, the doorstep; the boundary between death and life. Without the strength to haul himself to his feet, he scratches against the door, for all the world like an aged tomcat seeking a home. The wind carrying the sounds away into the night.  Scratch, scratch, scratch – there is no more.

The door opens; a dragon’s breath of heat and light blinds the night; a woman, not young, not very old, peers quizzically into the dark then down to her feet. ‘There’ she says, ‘There, there.’

She gathers the old man easily into her arms, just like an old tomcat, skin and bone, skin and bone; and takes him to her rocking chair near the warmth of the fire, the welcome of the hearth. She settles herself into the chair with the old man in her arms, gathered in, gathered in and she begins to rock. She gifts the warmth of her body against the frozen chill of skin and bone. She rocks; to and fro, to and fro. And every now and again she murmurs a woman’s healing;

‘There, there….there, there’.

Time passes; it seems the wind does not howl so defiantly now. The man in the woman’s arms no longer seems so old; an aged warrior perhaps, battle-torn and scarred but not bowed.

‘There, there…there, there’

The wind quietens to a whisper, a lullaby to accompany the woman’s words. The man is now younger, lean muscled limbs, a strong, handsome face relaxed in sleep. The woman smiles now but does not let him go.

‘There, there…there, there.’

Hours have gone by; the man has become a young boy, wavy hair, long eyelashes – beautiful. He fidgets in his sleep but holds on to the woman as closely as she holds him. The sky seems to have shaded from darkest slate to a dove grey but there are still no stars, no moon, no light other than the hearth fire.

‘There, there…there, there.’

The longest of times and the woman now cradles a strong baby boy, plump as a puppy with golden curls and the pout of a cherub. She gazes at him with pride and love and a great deal of satisfaction.  The grey of the sky has now become a dusky pink streaked with indigo. So nearly dawn but not quite.

‘There, there…there, there.’

And for hours the sky remains unaltered and the baby boy stays fast asleep. The woman sighs, a woman’s sigh, she has done all she can. She tickles his feet and the palms of his hands but he does not wake. She pinches his cheeks and his nose but he merely brushes her hand away and settles into the crook of her elbow. Finally, between finger and thumb, she takes three hairs from a curl on top of his head and plucks them out.

The baby’s eyes blaze open – fire bright, furnace bright; astonished, indignant.

‘There,’ the woman says, ‘you are.’

She carries the baby to the doorstep and shows him the nearly dawn.

‘And there…’ she points ‘…is where you should be.’

Without hesitation, as a hawk is released from the glove, the baby soars into the sky, golden bright, star bright, sun bright; the herald of new life, new beginnings, the Spring Son.


Inspired by a tale told by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

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