(Written in May 1993)
May 13 Real life is bigger than happiness
I was visited by an odd image which seemed to express my current state of soul: The body of a woman lying in the grass near blossoming apple trees, a rough stone wall, another field, and blue mountains in the background. I think she’s been dead for a while, she looks like a bundle of oddments, perhaps ragged clothes. The grass has grown up around her and the tree put out its blossoms. She was killed weeks, perhaps months ago, on a dark rainy day, when the war swept over this outlying farm. She may have been pregnant, she may have run from the soldiers and died giving birth in the orchard, she may have been raped and killed. Wild creatures, and perhaps winter as well, have reduced her corpse to a ragged lumpy shape. The other people who lived here must have been killed or run away. There is no one here now to take care of the house and the garden. I am aware of a group of nature spirits drifting through. They see the woman, the grass, the flowers, the mountains. I feel the contrasts in my body. I wait, hoping for more information, hoping something will happen, someone will come. But nothing changes.
The war happened long ago. But the corpse has only recently been uncovered and thawed out. There hasn’t been time yet for it to rot and become part of the grass and trees. It’s in the spring that I become aware of the corpse. Who is the dead woman? Is she my capacity to conceive, to give birth, to mother?
The change began with a detachment from daily life, a sense of walking away from everything familiar and known, of walking with measured steps out into a vast darkness.
Goldfinch battles near the thistle seed feeder — life goes on in the place I have left — but I have no sense of what life there might be out in the vast darkness. Will there be birds, trees, people, conversation, colors? Or is the darkness a place of transformation, and one emerges on the other side into a new world, a new life?
Do I want to leave this world — the world of goldfinches and apple blossoms — has it become “unspeakably dear”? Or is it still a place of horror — a rotting corpse under the apple tree, and death-dealing planes sending daggers of pain through my heart — a world I would be glad to leave? The truth is that it is both at the same time, and I am torn apart by the contrasts.
I offer myself to this process. By an act of will I set myself to believe that there is meaning here, that the forces that tear me apart are divine, that the purpose is transformation. Only by being eaten and digested does the mouse become eagle.
I feel a pain in my heart, enormous pain — I am afraid to give myself over to it for fear I would be ripped apart and die, and at the same time a part of me invalidates the pain: “Who are you to be unhappy? A lot of people would like to have your life.” “Why don’t you choose to be happy?” “You’re just wallowing in your pain.”
And I say no, this is real life. Real life is bigger than happiness. Real life is to be torn apart by the contrasts. There are corpses under all the apple trees, if you choose not to see them, then what do you have? Mourning and rejoicing are both appropriate, death and life are inextricably mingled in the tapestry, you have to accept it all, or you get nothing. “This beauty comes out of a great heart.” Yes. And that heart is open to include everything.
Later: I lost that glorious & painful sense of wholeness, that sense of holding together the two halves of the world: the corpse and the blossoming tree. It occurred to me driving to St. Johnsbury that all the soil is made up of corpses, the decayed dead bodies of bugs, animals, plants, that all the grasses and blossoming trees are rooted in corpses. And it occurred to me that the enormous sweet pain I feel tearing my heart open is love, love for the tree and for the corpse, love for life which is inseparable from death.