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Death and Dappled Things

A month or so ago Deborah Goldblatt and I hosted a World Café out at Commonweal in Bolinas for a group of end-of-life practitioners. Leading up to that event everything I saw or heard seemed to relate to our subject in some way – perhaps unsurprisingly given my sister Karen's death at the beginning of this year and my friend Kay's passing in June.

To prepare, Deborah and I went to see Anna Deavere Smith's phenomenal Let Me Down Easy at the Berkeley Rep, which was obstensibly about the body and resiliance – and it was – but it was also about death and disease and how poverty (and wealth) effects people's access to health care. If that wasn't enough, the circle I meet with every week in Second Life began a 16 week journey exploring the subject of Death and Dying through the 8 directions of the Medicine Wheel.

Somehow the essence of my whole matrix of experience during this time is rendered immaculately by this poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. We heard David Whyte recite it on one of his many CDs, this one about "apprenticing one's self to one's own disappearance" as we drove over the sacred mountain Tamalpais on our way to Commonweal.

It's called Pied Beauty:

Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
      And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                Praise him.

Comments

  1. Thank you, Amy. Just had lunch with a friend who had cancer a year ago and treatment for it, and who is now concerned again – she was grateful to me for being one of those people who she can talk to about death (while being superlatively happy to have a body that can talk!)

  2. It’s amazing how taboo talking about death can be in our culture… but that only underlines how valuable it is to have people we can talk to about our own death, and the deaths of those close to us. What a relief to break through the silence and share something so very important to each of us.

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