Monday, 19 February 2018

Stepping out of the illusion

Joel knew he was dying. This was no spiritual revelation; it was a balls to bone certainty, some incurable wasting illness that was inevitable, taking him piece by painful piece. He had a few months at worst and he didn’t know how much more he could take.
It wasn’t the disease or the pain that bothered him; they had almost become friends now; at least they were honest; they were doing anything out of malice but out of purpose; something that he no longer had.
He could no longer be himself around people; there was too much pity and misunderstanding; everyone walking on egg-shells, never planning for the future when he was in earshot. They drained him of his love of life; making him apologise for his situation, which made him feel more alone and angry.
He no longer wanted those feelings, no longer wanted to be around people that made him feel this way. Joel loved life too much to consider ending it himself; all life was a gift. One had to step outside the illusion and open themselves to the truth: death is a certainty; a friend, not something to be feared. He wanted to greet it as a friend amongst people who would understand.
He had heard of a place where death was revered and understood. It was talked of in hushed tones and only those who knew how to listen could find it.
There was a wood, bordering on train tracks where the lost, lonely and misunderstood went to die. Many of them knew their time had come and welcomed it, imparting their bodies to a single family who, for time immemorial, had taken care of their bodies, burying them with all respect afforded them.
So Joel travelled, spent many days and nights following their mournful but respectful song, enduring many hardships and much pain until his train finally reached a lone stop, on the border of Cairn Woods. There, waiting on the other side of the tracks, was a lone woman. She stood a head taller with an expansive frame, but seemed so comfortable in herself that he couldn’t help but smile at her. No words were spoken. She hugged him and he wept tears of joy. He was home.
He had come to die, to be accepted and die in peace, but on his first new morning he found that this was not to be the case.
Awoken before the sun, crippled by the storm of pain that wracked his body, he was surprised to find Earth Daughter sitting opposite him, her face serene; devoid of pity, but full of love and compassion, shining. She was not oblivious to his pain, simply accepting of it, and it helped him. He saw a depth in her eyes that he knew he could learn from and, in turn, allowed his own soul to take on those qualities. The pain did not cease but he no longer fought it.
“We must up.” She said eventually. Her skin was pale, as if composed of moonlight, her lips moist and red, but her eyes… Christ’s eyes.
“I don’t understand… I came here to die.” Joel replied.
“And so you shall, but it is not something to be taken lightly; it is not a gift freely given here. We are here to serve. It is US that have been given the gift. We have a responsibility to those that have chosen to come here; to pass through.
“You have chosen to die as you chose to live but feel that you have lost your way. Here you will find it again. When you understand, only then will you pass.”
Joel nodded and followed Earth Daughter out into the woods.

Dawn was alighting, its tendrils snaking out, awakening all that came into contact with it. From one of the trees hung a mist enshrouded body, like a long forgotten cocoon.  It was an old man, balding, his face ravaged by burns; yet there was a sense of bliss and acceptance. Joel had seen the same in Earth Daughters eyes.
“Our responsibility knows no timetable; our work is on-going; day or night. Reverence is key; we do not interfere, even if they struggle –to do so would destroy them; take away their only remaining power and dignity. We allow their souls time to make peace with their bodies and depart before we carry out our service. We then do our best to carry out their wishes, regardless of what they might be.
“Each of us is named according to our element and corresponds to the various ways of dispersal. Those that know of us will sometimes specify their wishes in accordance to how they might have lived their life, otherwise we will ask upon discovery.”
“How is that possible?” Joel asked, finding himself rocking in harmony with the man’s body, as it swayed in the wind.
“We understand people; the subtle signs that belie a life. After all, ours is a knowledge handed down generation after generation and people haven’t changed that much.” She smiled. “Today you will be joining me in preparing an Earth Burial. In time you may undertake each method of dispersal and will be able to draw strength and comfort before it is your time to pass.”

The dawn was peaceful. The mist hung, still enshrouding the rocking man. This was not a death of violence, despite the man’s ravaged appearance; his face was of a knowing calm. Joel understood the honour that he had been given.
“How is it that he is an Earth Burial when he chose to hang himself?” He asked.
“Everything has meaning. How we choose to transition is as important as any other method of travel. Bear in mind that the people who come here choose to do so; this is not borne of desperation, it is not a plea for help. We do not advocate suicide.
“Life is far too precious to squander. One must open themselves to the ways of the world and forsake the ego. If there is still only the one choice, then it is borne of true understanding and not out of reaction.
“The one you see before you now took his last step into the great unknown; he faced his transition as he faced his life: in peace. But as we prepare his body so you shall understand.”
Despite the pain, it was Joel who climbed the tree to lower the man down. The tree was ancient, the trunk worn into accessible foot and hand holds; its soft fibrous bark yielding in sympathy as Joel climbed. He took great care in untying the rope from the branch for it would have been disrespectful to cut it. Now it could be re-used by the others who would come here. When the body was at rest on the ground Earth Daughter went through the man’s pockets before taking the clothes off.
“Remember that this last journey of his was conscious; therefore everything that you find on his body is meant as a gesture. Sometimes we find letters and poems to us; thanking us for our services; likewise any money that is found will go towards our subsistence.”
In amongst the man’s possessions was a round of sandwiches which she left to one side.
“You must now dig a hole: 6x3x8ft deep; I shall show you where. We may then eat.”
“I can’t.” Joel replied, his voice breaking after the effort of lowering the man down.
“You must do what you can; you have come here to serve, to earn your place. And to be understood you must first understand. We do not ask this lightly; we will help those who help themselves from a place of knowing.
“Once upon a time the Tribe would have decided and supported the individual in their decision; but we no longer have that luxury. We will not assist you but empower you to make the next step; but it must be you who makes the choice. This man chose and he chose YOU to be witness to his crossing.”
Joel nodded and took the spade that was offered, bowing his head as he did so.
“This is not done out of torment; dig as best you can in the time that you can. Think of him, he will give you purpose and strength.”

For hours Joel dug the burial hole while Earth Daughter meditated; his pain a constant companion; known and almost loved for he didn’t allow it to define him. After the hole was dug he felt a perverse sense of pride.
“As well you should.” Earth Daughter said. “You have done him well.” They laid the man to rest in the hole gently, arranging the body as if he were sleeping. “Now we shall eat and allow him to acclimatise to his resting place.”
“Shouldn’t we wash our hands first?” Joel asked.
“That would be disrespectful. We will eat of his food and give thanks for our memories of him and then we shall say our goodbye.”
The sandwiches were simple ham and cheese, but they were among the best he had ever tasted. Joel couldn’t understand but then he looked around him; it was now almost mid-afternoon and the sun was high; everything was life affirming.
He was the rich tapestry; the skein of life that had brought him here. The hardships and pain suffered. He never thought that he could smile again, but here amongst the solace of the trees he wept with happiness for he had found himself.
He thanked the man for all that he had taught him and spend the next few hours filling in the grave, gently patting the ground when he had finished. Earth Daughter then arranged the undergrowth so it was impossible for anyone to tell that such a grave had been dug.
“We will know and that is enough. We know where each body has passed; it is our honour.”
They spent a few minutes standing over the grave site and Joel thanked Earth Daughter for her kindness before they headed back to the house where he went to bed.

That night he was surprised to find Earth Daughter in his room again. She was naked.
“I can’t…” He said, “I don’t know whether I can… my body… the pain..” He cried. She lay next to him and held him.
“Open yourself. Just be in the moment and love me because you can. Nothing else matters.” He opened himself to her and loved her for all she had shown him. The pain abated as the ecstasy of life overtook him.

Earth Daughter laid with him until morning, telling him stories of her life; honouring him with her spirit before marking his passing. He died knowing love, peace and understanding when all his life he’d known only pain. Earth Daughter returned to her family, to the life she had freely chosen and offered her blessing to all who had honoured her with their passing.

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