Skyline, Spring - 2006

By Diane Pendola

Is The Universe Trustworthy

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Our Yakima is dying. Our cat, whom we found as a skinny kitten wondering a motel parking lot in Yakima, Washington 17 years ago, is dying. I don't think it will be much longer. He stopped eating days ago. He stopped taking water yesterday. Teresa has much greater capacity than I to just be present with him-just be present in Love.

I'm reminded of Jesus on the cross. It's not such a leap as it may seem. Most of his friends could not sustain his suffering. They wanted to do something. Save him. Take him from the cross. Take up arms. Start a revolution! Anything but this watching and waiting. Anything but this suffering-with. We are told that there were at least three people close to Jesus who had the capacity to stay present with him in his suffering and their powerlessness. We know that one was his mother. We know all three loved him dearly. Perhaps in their love they were not so powerless as they appear.

I watch Teresa with Yakima. I see her bathing him with her love. I see him respond-looking into her eyes, reaching out a white mittened paw, even though he is so weak now he can barely move. I reflect on something Brian Swimme said recently at a retreat we attended. He asked, "Is death a mistake?"  This thing called death that is woven into the very fabric of the Universe, that is itself the nourishment of Life: Is it a mistake?

Two years ago I was experiencing some mysterious neurological symptoms. "What is happening to my body?"  I asked myself, "the beginning of MS or worse, ALS?"  Right there, in my numb hands and feet, in the strange sensation of deadness traveling through the mid-section of my body, was my mortality. And yes, I was afraid. But the dominant experience was not one of fear, but of liberation. The reality of death, the possibility of not having a future, opened up a freedom within me to more fully embrace the present: to live this moment, as Jesus counseled, like the lilies of the field and the birds of the air who do not store up their goods against an uncertain future. In fact, the future is certain. Death waits. So live now-completely now. Not holding back for a tomorrow that never comes.

The feeling of spaciousness eventually closed down. I was diagnosed with chemical poisoning that would eventually clear out of my body, and my mind turned again to the details of securing my life and my future. But the experience of liberation left its imprint on my soul. Death had its way of shocking me into wakefulness to the precious, exquisite, extraordinary moment of my time. This time.

So, I ask myself again, "Is death a mistake?"  Is suffering a mistake: The suffering of Jesus on the cross? The suffering of those watching who could do nothing but love him? The suffering of an animal at the end of life? The suffering of the human holding his frail and shuddering body? Is it all a mistake? If it is we will do anything to avoid or control it, change or deny it. We will do something, anything but be present to suffering and death and let it do its work in us. Perhaps one of the ultimate questions is: Is the Universe trustworthy? Or to put it theologically, is God trustworthy? Is Reality trustworthy? Is it something we can allow ourselves to be held by with the attitude of trust and surrender Yakima shows in Teresa's loving embrace?

These seem to be such important questions for our time. We are alive in a season of great dying, a level of dying which has not been seen since the great extinctions that brought the demise of the dinosaurs over 65 million years ago. A December 2005 report, drawn from NASA aerial photographs taken in Alaska, showed that polar bears are literally drowning due to the loss of Arctic ice from global warming. Many of us saw the documentary The March of the Penguins. It allowed us to fall in love with a species very few of us had even known about. Now, just as we come to know and love them they are being lost to us as their habitat literally melts beneath them. The question that rises for me, for all of us is: how to be present to this time of such great suffering and dying? Do we keep busy? Deny or ignore it? Run away through drugs, alcohol, all our myriad ways of numbing ourselves? Or do we keep watch and wait?

At the foot of the cross those who loved Jesus dearly showed the capacity to suffer with him. There was no hope of resurrection in that moment. There was only the pain and the dying

I watch Teresa. Her capacity for love, for presence moves me to tears. It moves me toward Yakima and toward my own heart that breaks with all the deaths that have been and all the deaths that are yet to come. But in the breaking I feel the spaciousness: that doorway in my soul that death opens. It feels like freedom. Maybe even like resurrection. It definitely feels like Love.

May this be the space from which all my "doing" comes.

Dedicated to my father, Bill Pendola

The rare, white gyrfalcon, has always been regarded as the most
noble of all falcons. In medieval times only royalty
hunted with this, largest of the true falcons.

You came to me in a dream:
a white bird in a blue sky.

I stood on the brow of a hill,
green grasses falling away
beneath soft breezes.
As your form grew close
I could see your speckled wings
tipped in black, your fierce
far-seeing eyes holding the field
in which I stood.
I could feel the excitement
grow in me, as you circled closer,
as your wings beat the air.

I realized you were
no common bird, no hawk
I knew, no native raptor.
I felt my mind move out
to grasp you, my thoughts
reaching toward those muscled
wings, the strength of you
a fury in my chest
like strong talons gripping
the wood of my heart.

I would have lifted out of
myself, then, if I could.
I would have left my body-
willing prey to your magnificence.
Instead my mouth fell open
and my hands raised
in what I can only call

In my awe, I was not alone.
Someone else stood beside me,
an old man, my father.

I could feel him next to me,
so quiet.
He did not chatter
as I chattered.
He did not grasp,
as I grasped.

He walked out beyond me.
And you came to him-
his outstretched arm
the branch receiving you,
his body the tree,
his mind its root,
his heart the folding of your wings.

I was witness
to this royal meeting,
swept into a holy communion
I have been searching for all my life.

as simply
as open field,
undefended sky,
quiet mind.
No thought. No future.
Just Presence.

©Diane Pendola, Spring 2006. You are welcome to print or make a copy in electronic form for personal use or sharing with interested persons as long as the copyright notice is not removed or altered. Please do not print it in any other publication, or sell it, by itself or as part of another work, without express written permission of the author.

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