Drying, Dying, And Devouring Life

October 10, 2021

by Hagar Harpak

Life and death woven together

What makes you feel alive these days?

How do you connect to your life force? 

What is your life about right now?

This season brings with it a gentle reminder that death is woven into the unfoldment of life. It isn’t some far away and out there thing that happens at the end. Death breathes its lessons into the cycles of the earth, into the seasons of our lives, into the change we see and seek in our own journey of growth, in the river flow of every relationship we have, in the ins and outs of our every breath.

I look at baby pictures of Kesem who will turn nine next month. And I stare into her deep, wise eyes as she tells me stories from all the fairytale books she’s been reading. A gift of this whole new person and a loss of my little baby are stirred together in this warm cup of motherhood. I sip on it and relish the sweetness, tasting the sadness as the wonder of it all washes down my throat. 

We move into the darker days of the year. The air is cooler. The ground is covered in dried leaves. Except on the days when the leaf blowers come, to make sure we don’t have to deal with our dried up and fallen stuff. We cast away old age and decay. It doesn’t fit into the young and fit image we must maintain. Our society keeps its relationship with death tucked in the deepest and messiest drawer – the one that has way too much stuff in it and no longer opens up easily, the one we will not organize. Ever. The only skeletons we bring out of our closets are the plastic ones we decorate for Halloween with. 

When you go into the forest, the fallen trees and all that grows around and through them, tell the story of how renewal depends on decay. Dried fern and green fern side by side. Moss grows on trees that stretch toward the sky, as well as ones that stretch across the forest floor. You look down at the forest floor and the magic of existence asks you to be part of it. Dead wood reveals layers of life. Dropped cones and acorns are the end of a cycle and the beginning of a new one. They don’t hold the concept of beginning and end. They live the continuum that they are. 

Sometimes I miss who I used to be, as I learn to rest into who I am. Parts of who I was are harder to look at, and I do my best to hug that girl and offer her words of comfort. The components have changed. Some ingredients have been added, while others are no longer available. More variables drop and rise as I grow older. There are aspects of who I am that are difficult to embrace. We don’t become more simple. Life increases in complexity. I stir the brew of my becoming. That which has been shed finds its place in the cauldron.  

I see the age spread across my face. I am committed to learning how to harness the power and unveil the beauty in aging. It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make me sad. I grieve the cooling off hotness as I breathe into an inner fire. I can hold the paradox. Shefa, who is four and a half, sang a song about my wrinkles this week, and then told Kesem and I that he cannot wait until he has lines across his forehead. He thinks it’s so beautiful. 

The exhaustion of the pandemic, with the different forms of grief that it continues to sprinkle over us, might make some of us more open to this season’s invitation to walk consciously into the shadows. Yet some of us might feel more resistant than ever to anything dark, heavy, or uncomfortable. 

I’m looking out the window on this gloomy morning, pondering my own resistance. Not to darkness, but to other things. The lightless quality of the world out there reminds me to make room for resistance, and space for that which I resist. 

This time of year gifts us an opportunity to include the decay and the resistance to it. To welcome aging (what else are ya gonna do?!) and the sadness that comes with it. To be with the pain so we can heal the wound. To accept the wound so we can learn to live with it. To miss the glory of the past and sculpt a future of fulfillment from the broken pieces of the present. To love life more deeply not despite death, but because of it. 

Nature’s wisdom whispers through fallen fruit and decaying dreams, reminding us that everything has its place under her cloak. “Leave the leaves!” she says. “Why on earth would you blow them away with your toxic fumes?” 

When we let the dried leaves stay, the earth can rest under the blanket she has woven so patiently throughout this entire cycle. She receives nourishment, keeps moist and fertile, and the soil is richer. 

What could happen if we receive and make space for the dried up parts of ourselves instead of blowing them off? What would the ground of being feel like? Who will you become if you allow the restructuring of who you are lean into the composting process? How would you live your life if you included death in it? 

I leave you with a quote from the amazing Audre Lorde:

“What is there possibly left for us to be afraid of, after we have dealt face to face with death and not embraced it? Once I accept the existence of dying as a life process, who can ever have power over me again?”

I hope that you are enjoying the season of the witch, and that you are filling your life, your darkness, your love, your grief, your human beingness, your every day with meaning.

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