by Rachel Boughton

 

Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.
-from Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle


Koan: 
Someone asked the old teacher Dasui, “It’s clear that the fire at the end of time will completely destroy the universe. But tell me, is there something that won’t be destroyed?”

Dasui answered, “It will be destroyed.”

“It will go along with everything else?”

“Yes,” said Dasui, “It will go along with everything else.”

 

Last week, on a Saturday at dusk in early June, I went for a walk at a park in the hills near my house. When I arrived there the parking lot was almost deserted. It was a holiday weekend, but still it was unusual at the park to see only a single car. I checked to see if I had lost track of time and we were right on the heels of sunset, but no, sunset was an hour away. It was very, very still and quiet.

As I walked my dogs into the hills, I talked on the phone to my sister. I was lonely that evening, which sometimes happens to me at dusk when I’ve been alone all day. I talked to her about nothing in particular. Suddenly I looked up from the ground where I had been concentrating, and out into the low sun, and I became aware of how stunningly beautiful everything was. The sun was coming through the high grass by the trail, some of it taller than my head. The grasses arched over the trail and everything was bright and golden, incomprehensible. I felt something sharp like longing, or nostalgia, or loss… but nostalgia for that very moment. I told my sister about it, how beautiful, how very tall the grass is this year, already, higher than my head and golden in early June. She said, yes, the huckleberries where she lives in Idaho were ripe, too. Ripe in early June. Though not the strawberries, which was some sort of comfort.

Later as I was walking back, no longer talking on the phone, I heard the redwing blackbirds calling to each other over the marshy place on the way to the parking lot and noticed that the streambed was dry. Hadn’t it been running with water just last week? Then I walked through a stand of very old valley oak trees who, at that time of evening, seemed to be eager to be alone again and unseen so they could shake their leaves and move about and speak to one another about whatever it is they speak of.

As I drove home the stillness and sense of the world waiting with an indrawn breath stayed with me. A pair of mourning doves flying side by side came right past my car, keeping pace with me for awhile.

There was something that evening that made me feel the sense of the tender and exquisite beauty of this life. It felt oddly like the last moment of the world, the moment in the movie right before the meteor strikes. I knew at the time that my narrative was trying to catch hold of something I recognized, science fiction, to make sense of the frozen-in-time perfection of it all, and the poignant sense of loss I felt even as I was loving it. The Vonnegut line about eating and drinking and being merry, before we die, it came to me then.

Most moments don’t announce themselves like that. I know each moment is the only one of its kind, but I don’t really feel it too often. Perhaps it was my noticing that evening the way life and the weather on earth are in the process of making a rapid and perhaps irreversible change that cued me. But it’s always this way, always unutterably beautiful, and always gone away beyond any possibility of return in every moment. I guess that’s the thing about loving things, you’re always saying goodbye.

 

(For more writing by Rachel, you can visit Zen Notes.)

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