I wrote this piece in 2007. As I think about my cousin's death, I'm moved to share it again.
Thoughts on an Equinox
Earlier today, I wandered the grounds of the Unitarian campus in Davis with a group of fellow travelers. Our walking meditation included prayers, poems for the season, and the collection of some of autumn’s treasures. We sang
Summertime has turned the star-wheel
Autumn is upon us
Glorious the trees
Glorious the sight of rust leaves falling, falling
and reflected upon the gifts of this potent season.
Some of those gifts—the literal ones—now sit on the family altar we built this evening. In the seedpods of the Western redbud, in the tiny crabapples and the leaves from the big leaf maple there are other gifts: lessons about knowing when to slow down, and when to let go.
I am struggling with the grief of letting go. So many friends are dying of cancer, so many too young. We have poisoned our earth and ourselves in the process.
At church today we learned that a woman we know, not much older than us, is on life support and not expected to last long. She leaves behind two young daughters and a son with Down’s syndrome.
Another friend, 42, is dying of an inoperable brain tumor. Another of a rare cancer. One of my dearest friend’s fathers is in hospice—leukemia. Another’s just died—liver cancer. And several elders—friends, Craig’s clients—are deciding not to pass another winter on this earth.
In my worldview, death is accepted, in that it makes room for life. They are part of the same cycle, inextricably bound. But when so much death comes at once, it is a struggle not to feel engulfed by sadness. To honor the dying, I must choose to live with as much grace as I can muster and to embrace what gifts and happiness are bestowed upon me.
I came home from our morning at church feeling sad and yet peaceful, and resolved to get some plants in the ground before it rained. My favorite autumn equinox ritual involves planting flowers. To plunge young plants into dark soil as we head into the dark season is an act of faith. Like some of my friends engaged with the act of dying, some of them will not make it through till spring. Others will surprise me with their blooms next year. In my yard, the tender plants will be buried with the mulch of a million falling oak leaves.
And what would this season be without a harvest? This afternoon the garden yielded up to me divine treats: plump tomatoes, fragrant basil, spearmint and oregano, zucchini, cucumber, red peppers and flowers of half a dozen varieties. Watching the kids play in the back yard while I harvested, hearing the chiming bells of their laughter, was balm for the soul.
Toting my harvest inside, I spent the rest of the day cooking. Tomatoes became salsa and soup, basil became pesto, and the zucchini, melded with nutmeg and lemon zest, resolved into a delicious bread. What could be more life affirming than the smell of good food in a warm kitchen on a cold day?
I could say I cooked for my family—to feed them, body and soul. Or that I cooked for myself, as distraction. But really, I think I cooked for Becky and Corvin, Marilyn and Jerry and Louis. It is up to the living to be strong, to make soup, to sing and grieve, and to remember. These are the tasks I take forward with me into my namesake season.