I’ve just buried George under a rose bush in my back garden. I’m sitting here still caked in mud, the ground saturated with water thanks to heavy December rain.
I’m feeling that strange mix of guilt, regret and anger that often accompanies loss. Guilt because I feel I could have done more for him; regret because I feel that had I taken him in just a day earlier it could have made all the difference; and anger at the lack of comfort and companionship George must have experienced in his short life.
I feel this deep discordant sense of what could have been; ‘if only I had done this or that’ then maybe he’d still be alive and my promise to give him a good life and home wouldn’t now be redundant. The greatest angst of all however, is from knowing that I can’t bring him back; I can’t put it all right – I want him to be alive, but what’s done is done, and whatever I may have wanted, died with him.
Isn’t it weird how we rail against reality? Here I am, many times have I written about how discord with reality is the root of all our suffering and how acceptance of life – as it is – is the cure. But yet, despite that, I find myself falling into the same trap; feeling despair because reality isn’t in line with my expectations.
It reminds me of an old Buddhist fable called the ‘The Mustard Seed’. In this story, a young mother called Kisa Gotami had just lost her young son. Distraught with grief, she’d asked all her neighbours for a medicine to bring her child back to life. Most of her neighbours simply dismissed her as insane, but appreciating her profound loss, one kindly man told her that the Buddha would be able to restore her son’s life.
On their first encounter the Buddha told the young woman that he could indeed bring her son back to life, but in order to do so he would need her to collect from her neighbours as much muster seed as they were prepared to give her. The only provision, the Buddha said, was that the mustard seed must come from households who had never experienced the death of a loved one.
Kisa Gotami went knocking door to door in her quest, and everyone was more than willing to help. The only problem was, whichever door she knocked on she received the same response, ‘We would gladly give you some mustard seed to restore your son’s life, but alas many, many of our loved one’s have died.’
Instead of perpetuating her despair, Kisa Gotami was comforted by a profound truth: death is a part of life, as is feeling sorrow and morning for those we have lost. No matter how unfair it may feel to have our loved ones torn away from us, that is the nature of life – life is both precious and transient – no one is exempt from death and no one is exempt from mourning the loss of a loved one.
The comfort of death is in that realisation – death is just an inevitable part of life. Yes we try to rail against it, we hope those and the things we love will never change, will never die, but ultimately change and death are part of life’s rich tapestry.
Why do we value life so much – why do we consider it so precious?
Because we know it is so fleeting. As I have read today in various Buddhist texts, it’s the same reason we are taken with the beauty of a rose or cherry blossom – the preciousness of that beauty is born out of their transience, because we know it will soon fade. That’s the reason why a plastic rose can never act as substitute; it is the fragility of life that makes it so precious.
There’s nothing much in me at the moment apart from the solace derived from that story and the consolation that change, of which death is part, is the very essence of reality and of life.
Like this short poem by the 18th century Japanese Zen poet Ryoken illustrates, the way things are is the way things are; we should live in appreciation of the beauty of nature and life, never mourn its inevitable loss: