December 18, 1999
Piled like human pick-up sticks, we wheel through town. My companion and I are perched, balancing, barely hanging on. It's a fantastically dangerous place to be! Whizzing through street, sounds and smells. A full-bodied experience, imprinting itself on my DNA. These moments make me.
In the speedy split of a half second, my eye catches a girl, I KNOW HER! She's selling sticky breakfast rice. My hand raises to waive as I hear her trailing soprano announce that a woman we know has passed away in the night.
She's gone. A heart stopped.
Forty years earlier she made her screaming entrance into the world. No epidurals here. Her baby body was washed and swaddled tightly with a pouch of garden herbs pinned to her blanket. Traditions explain: "it keeps the vampires away".
We'd just seen her the other day.
She was ill. And, in the usual way it goes in third-world countries, they aren't really sure what was wrong. I heard the medicine woman explain, "her body got sick after giving birth to her last baby." That baby is now a t-shirt clad toddler laughing and running up the street with a stick in hand. We get a high-five as he runs by.
Her body seemed to be accelerating through the wearing out and withering process. A dark blue patterned house dress hovered around her and never seemed to touch her skin. My clearest memory recalls her shiny dark eyes and witty laughter.
Dislodging ourselves from the human pick-up sticks, the motorcycle coughs and shifts into low gear and then stops. While the driver balances motorcycle and passangers, I pass him a few pesos.
A dozen vigil candles burn skipping shadows across the endless collection of Roman Catholic Patron Saints holding the Christ Child. In place of her chair is a box, a coffin.
With the greatest reverence, her husband asks if we will help dress her body for burial. My heart gasps while my throat closes and my eyes water with emotion, we both nod "yes". My companion and I, holding hands, squeeze tightly. I feel as if I have been invited to participate in a solemn ancient human ritual.
Preparing the dead to cross over.
His hands reverently placed on the small packet of clothing he passes to us. A mans' hands tell his story. These hands are rough and on any other day may be found working, repairing and providing, but this morning they shake with the loss of his love, his wife, the mother.
Humbly and silently, we begin the task of caring for her. I have never felt the cold clay of a human body before. The stark difference between our warm, living hands against her clay is profound. Her skin literally feels like thick clay, almost as if it could be molded. The breath of life no longer filling her nostrils.
With her clay in my hands, I see that our bodies are a fantastic gift, a vessel to be honored. And without our Spirits, the breath of life, we are nothing but clay to be recycled by the earth.
I begin to understand that she is not dead. Her body is clay and stiff but this is not the end.
September 20, 2012
My own grandmother's warbling breath faded. And as it did, she slid her footstool to the side, preparing to stand while reaching her arms out.
"Who do you think came to get her?" my mom asks as tears fill her eyes.
The whole family agrees, it must have been her son and two grandsons who have already passed over.
She lived for 89 years, rode horses, lived through the blizzard of '49 and survived a plane crash! She was married to my grandfather for 66 years. They gave life to 3 daughters and 2 sons. At 90 years old he is navigating through his first nights without her. He whimpers with the dignity of a man who has let his love go.
My 3-year-old son asks, "Did her heart stop?"
The touch of her cheek is a piercing reminder that we are more than just bodies of clay.
Part body: electrical pulses, H2O, mitochondrial DNA, subject to disintegration.
Part spirit: purpose, freedom, instinctive, ageless.
Their separation highlights their need for each other as working, equal parts, unified.
I love my life. I love the gift of my body which gives me freedom and agency. I choose who I will be, how I feel no matter what surrounds me. Mr. Scabs brought things into his life that made him a slave. A man without freedom.
There is something really fantastic about these men in honest recovery. It is the ultimate collaboration of spirit and body. I'm thankful for the possibility of metamorphosis.