Confluence Ceremonies

Marking Your Life's Important Moments

Tag: life

Losing Sight of the Shore

One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight, for a very long time, of the shore. —Andre’ Gide

 

Recently, three generations of our family attended an opening at a local art gallery.

The exhibit’s title, “The Big Sleep,” is, as you may know, a euphemism for death.

“Conversations on Finality” is the specific focus of this visual conversation created by art, a sort of “death café” for the eye, a mixed-media discussion of the various terminals we face in life. The different works frequently addressed the theme of physical death, but others took us further into this major metaphor of our lives.

One sculpture I can’t forget is a cast bronze by Steve Love. Barely bigger than your laptop and standing approximately 12 inches, “Crossing” depicts a little rowboat, just big enough for a man, a woman, and boatman holding an oar that reaches to the water below. He stands forward in the boat, and looks ahead toward the far shore as he moves the little boat through the water. Behind him sits a naked man to one side of the boat, his arms violently gripping the rail, his body tense, seeming to ask frantically, “How did I get here? How do I get back?” In stark contrast to him, in the aft of the boat sits a naked woman, motionless—she is stilled, her hands in her lap. Her gaze is not into the water or even toward the now-invisible shore she has left forever; instead, she focuses inward. She seems to be thinking: “I am here. This is what is now.”

After gathering my many initial responses, I allowed the critical part of my brain to engage. I began to see more details, like the froth in the small boat’s wake, just little hints of water and wave amazingly cast into the dark metal sculpture. The artist’s careful technique aptly described a boat not hurrying, but moving deliberately, steadily. For, why hurry? Time has no seat on the trip from life to death. This poem beside the sculpture communicates the sculpture’s end-of-life theme:

[For a bronze sculpture titled “Crossing”]

Death is a journey,
A passage.

Across the river Styx to the gates of the underworld,
Over the Jordan of Death to the promised land,
Following in a boat the sun on his journeys in the Upper Waters.
Across the Great Stream!

Our ancestors came out of the sea.
At birth we emerge from the embryonic fluid of the womb,
And into the dark churning waters we depart.

 

~Steve Love

The artist stood nearby, as we are always appreciative of in a gallery opening. Steve Love is familiar to me, as his sculpture “Twisp” was the subject of the art installation ceremony I enacted last summer at the Twisp Ponds site. I knew him to be a man of few words, a refreshing combination of humorous and erudite, and in possession of more than a little insight into life’s big themes.

“Thank you for your woman”—these are the strange words that came out of my mouth—and I motioned toward the sculpture before us. He looked into my eyes for a short moment and then gracefully answered: “You’re very welcome.”

“I can’t figure out why she, of all three figures, affects me the most. She is the least detailed and the still-est.”

“She is stoic . . . and serene,” he answered. “She has accepted what is, and does not fight it.”

That was it. Especially in comparison to the poor fellow at the side of the boat who appeared to be contemplating a panicky jump overboard and a swim back—to where?—she was instead gathering herself for this journey. She was taking stock. She had opened herself to the real, to change, and was now preparing to be transformed. She was quietly becoming.

Yes, the sculpture was about death. But not only that. It was also about how we live.

The truth is, hard change is a part of life. We need to mark important but sometimes painful passages in order to be able to, like the woman in the boat, consent to let go of the shore. Like her, we need to stop and contemplate the leaving behind in order to grasp the importance of the journey itself. This release begins the necessary transformation from was to is. Release prepares us for what will be.

As I stood in the gallery with my husband, his aging mother, and our adult son contemplating this wise artwork, I saw its relevance to how we live. In its commemoration of the journey that transformation is, this work depicts our own choice: we can try as hard as we can to resist change, or we can accept it.

Celebrancy helps us to discover new lands, because it creates ceremonies that hold sacred a vital and creative space for pause, allowing for acceptance, assessment, and contemplation before we set off toward whatever awaits off shore.IMG_1872

What Remains

Over the last 5 weeks, our beautiful Methow Valley, located in North Central Washington State, has been through many serious trials. First came the extreme heat wave and high winds in early and mid-July, then the wildfires, then the flash floods, followed by the landslides. And now, the clean-up.

One person has died, suffering a heart attack while attempting to defend his home from the fires. Countless wild and farm animals were lost as well.  Families’ hard-earned life savings were decimated.  Dreams were dashed. We are all surrounded by endings.

First and foremost, fire destroyed more than 300 homes in our valley. Imagine your home, its rooms, its history, its presence. Then imagine it destroyed by fire, now surrounded by an unrecognizable moonscape of black tree trunks, layers of ash, and creeks and rivers running black. Many of these homes were farms, with barns and fields full of cattle, horses, goats, sheep. These were lost, too. It’s really too horrible to grasp.

Brave firefighters surely saved more homes than were lost, but the trauma of evacuating while your neighbors’ houses burned is etched on memory here. As you grab the few belongings you can think of (what would you take if you were given a short amount of time to leave your home?), you know time is ticking. You say goodbye as you drive—to where?—not knowing if you’ll ever see your property again, but grateful to be alive and hopefully with those you love.

Other losses suffered here are somewhat less tangible. They include the day-to-day life endings: business owners scrambling to make ends meet, down-towns temporarily quieted as they struggle to regroup. State highways, the arteries of our rural communities, shut down. Families making huge decisions about staying or leaving, rebuilding or selling. An entire summer lost to simply trying to recover.

And perhaps most serious of the losses caused by this summer’s trials are the assumptions we have held close: the belief in the permanence of the landscape, one’s way of life as enduring, Mother Nature as gentle, home as a safe place.

The lessons are thick in the air. We are all thinking about these. And they are not abstract concepts anymore. For one community, at least, these ideas are now front and center.

To such lessons I would add one more: change provides the opportunity for transformation. Destruction and devastation have long been seen as the road to renewal. And indeed, where the ash has lain for weeks in thick, choking layers, grass is now shooting up, boasting a bright vivid green against the ravaged landscape. Foresters tell us that come Spring, we will see young pines sprouting up everywhere.

And neighbors lean in toward each other, asking the question of the summer: How are you doing? Never before has that question been so common and yet so important.

As a celebrant, my interaction with life, death, and transformation keep these realities in front of me each day. These are the natural themes of our lives and they mark the arcs of our existences. We each suffer losses in life, and struggle to right ourselves, to learn how to move forward.

But how to move forward authentically? I know for certain we are right to mourn the losses we’ve suffered, to mark the endings of the lives we lived up until this horrible thing happened. And then, I know we can begin to turn with renewed energy toward the future.

With what remains—our compassion, our renewed values, and yes, our shared loss—we have the material we need to re-imagine our lives anew.

A community is a living thing, and like farmlands or Ponderosa pines or the white-tailed deer that share our valley, our community will regenerate, taking the opportunity misfortune has given to reassess and to transform our ways of life.

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Courtesy Reflected Light Photography

I look forward to the healing and growing to come!