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As the day to celebrate my birth approaches, I’m thinking a lot about death. Not in any maudlin sense but in a way that feels real and necessary. In a few days I’ll turn the same age my older sister was when she died from a brain tumor. I’m already 61 years older than my younger sister was when she died of kidney failure. While I hope to live for many more healthy, joy-filled years, I am feeling my mortality in a new way and although I’d love to be all Zen about it, I can feel the terror and the grief running like an icy stream just under the surface.

On my hike today, I saw a huge red-tailed hawk sitting low on a branch in the woods. I approached slowly and quietly, hoping to get nearer without startling it to wing. It felt magical and life affirming as I crept closer and closer and she stayed put. I could not believe that I was able to walk directly beneath her perch and we looked each other in the eye and still she did not fly. I hiked on with a sense of joy my heart that I had been granted this moment of presence with such a magnificent creature but when I made my way back, an hour or so later, she was still there. The enchantment faded as I approached and I began to understand that she was wounded in some way and that was why she didn’t take to flight, even when I stopped directly below her.

I sat down beside her tree and allowed myself to truly understand her to her plight. She could not fly and so would soon die deep in that wood. She appeared calm but clearly could not leave that branch. There was nothing I could do to help her and, although I know that this is the nature of things, my heart ached with the knowledge that I was witnessing that tender moment between life and death and I was, once again, reminded of my own mortality and did my best to stay with the feelings and be curious about my process.

Could I remember and hold the joy in the encounter with this wild bird even while knowing that it would end with the imminent loss of her life? Could I remember that I too will die and, in fact, am dying now, and still hold on to the joy of living? How can I come to terms with the fact that life ends, sometimes in spectacularly painful or messy ways? How do I stay in the moment? How do I carry joy even in the hard and heavy times?  Can I shift my intellectual understanding that death comes to us all and that from the moment we draw our first breath we are on our way to dying, to a true acceptance of that truth?  I want to have equanimity and grace as I journey toward my inevitable end; to live fully even as I’m dying every day.

May it be so for all of us.


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