Just had some news, the kind of news that could have come anytime and at any hour, the kind of news that moves the axis of the earth a little bit, not a big bit, in my world, but in someone else’s the earth’s tilt won’t ever be the same again. For them their day started in an ordinary way, and ended richer and emptier. For thirty odd years we acknowledged each other every now and again with a greeting ritual: Me – hello how are you? And he said – Well I’m still breathing. We then had a giggle and proceeded into conversation. It was as familiar as doing a nod to start some kind of colonial two-step dance. These everyday moments are like an ember in a fire being carried in sticks from place to pace and when the spark is ignited with the breath of the greeting, off we can go to build the fire, a safe place to chat with the space between us held once suspended, re-constituted for conversation. We all have people in our lives where we can pick up where we left off, with ease and little ceremony. He was one such person. He lived on his own terms and under his own conditions and I will miss our every now and again conversations.
A spark is quite fragile really, sometimes needing a little coaxing to come into its fullest self to reveal both fire and air. The elemental energies glow and invite promise. The candle starts with the spark of a match and begins to burn joining it’s fragility to another carrier. Leaving one host and moving onto another, passing on and then extinguished in a puff. February is a month of birthdays in our family and I am reflecting on the spark of life begun in the womb, passed on and transpiring into candles and as they are blown out the years gone are extinguished, relegated to history, to behind and there in a clean sweep is the year ahead. Another trip around the sun waiting to be explored. Passing on and through the flames of the year just gone. The adage of what is past is past, rings so true at birthdays. We can’t go back and the impermanence of life, becomes real with the blowing out of the candles, the reminder and truth, that every breath in and out is a living and dying and to value each breath for that reminder to ignite and extinguish. To celebrate all that has happenned in a year and to also give thanks for the one who passed on the spark, to receive affirmation and acclamation from your family and friends, to be celebrated and then to steady yourself to take a breath, to blow out candles and in-spire – breath in – again – ready to bring your spark to the next year.
The divine spark of a person never goes out while there is breath in the body, and maybe for some of us in this species it doesn’t even leave the rest of us, somehow making a leap into the unknown, or becomes attached to another or fused into memories. I am not sure how this all works! I do know that in these moments when I hear news of a death, a memory is sparked off and I have a connection to the past, built on the foundations of everyday encounters. There is an unfolding of memories that are not chronological, they just float up, arriving as fuel to the spark.
Celebrating birthdays is a way of making memories to draw on for the future, to float up when the time comes and to join with other memories to notice the passing of the flame. None of us are getting any younger and here’s to more breathing in and out and fully appreciating the practice of still breathing, being lit up with joy at being alive and being celebrated for the unique, one-of-a-kind person you are in the world.
PS: Happy Birthday to all the February babies in my family.
For Your Birthday – by John O’Donohue
The blueprint of your life
Would begin to glow on earth,
Illuminating all the faces and voices
That would arrive to invite
Your soul to growth
Praised be your father and mother
Who loved you before you were;
And trusted to call you here
With no idea who you would be.
Blessed be those who have loved you
Into becoming who you were meant to be,
Blessed be those who have crossed your life
With dark gifts of hurt and loss
That have helped to school your mind
In the art of disappointment.
When desolation surrounded you,
Blessed be those who looked for you
And found you, their kind hands
Urgent to open a blue window
In the grey wall formed around you.
Blessed be the gifts you never notice,
Your health, eyes to behold the world,
Thoughts to countenance the unknown,
Memory to harvest vanished days,
Your heart to feel the world’s waves,
Your breath to breathe the nourishment
Of distance made intimate by earth.
On this echoing-day of your birth,
May you open the gift of solitude
In order to receive your soul;
Enter the generousity of silence
To hear your hidden heart,
Know the serenity of stillness
To be enfolded anew
By the miracle of your being.