I kneel in soft, long grass. Sweet bushes arch overhead. The lilac scent colors the quiet like puffs of magical incense. A stone presses against my leg. A robin burbles her round song, and I know again that time is not real. Time does not pass. There is no before and after.
Past the sheets on the line, the sleeping basset hound and the dark trunk of the walnut tree is the back porch of my childhood house. Grandma is beating eggs in the kitchen.
But the robin’s call stretches through time, and I’m a woman with heavy breasts. This yard is a field that ends in woods, and the dog is a sweet old shepherd. My little girl perches in a tree, saying nothing. Her eyes shine as she peers down. She’s in her secret place, hiding. Graceful as a fairy, she reaches higher in the tree, and soon all I can see are her slim legs. A brilliant little thing, she speaks her own language as if she just came out of the fairies’ hill yesterday. Her words belong only to her, and even though almost no one knows exactly what she’s saying, she’s sure of herself and stamps her feet when we get confused.
One evening at a party, she stands next to me, tiny and strong. She wore pink overalls this evening and wanted her light hair pulled into a ponytail on top of her head. With the huge adults watching, she makes a solemn face and steps out to the center, saying nothing. Her light eyes sweep the group. She stays silent and steps back. The years prove how deceptive her delicacy is.
I don’t understand why the robin’s call, a perfectly round dewdrop, moves me outside of time. It cuts through time slantwise, from the tiny girl’s moment to the old woman’s. Then it cuts through time again, coming from a new angle, one that I cannot grasp. It’s too big, too simple, too impossible for human thought.
The flavor of the robin’s call is like the steam from coffee on a campfire morning, like the scent of my baby’s neck, like the taste of my lover’s skin, like the first sip of tea after a wracking cry, like a lick of frosting from my mother’s hot cross buns.
Seeing no time is like the movement I see out of the corner of my eye that must have been a fairy. Nothing can grasp it. It is real magic that no one can ever prove.
Next to me I hear the soft breath of my beloved as he sleeps. In the wrinkled sheets and the deep lines around his eyes the years lead back to all stories. He cuts the cord of a baby born by lantern light in a hippie cabin in the mountains. His boots push the dark green fronds aside as he steps through the Vietnamese jungle, none of the marines daring to breathe, senses searching beyond what is possible for the trigger, the detonation. He sits cross-legged on a prison cot, falling backwards into the silence of a mantra. I look out at choppy Arctic waves and the sheer face of the cliff where we cannot land. As he paddles, the kayak surges forward. I am never afraid with him.
Sleeping breaths. I kneel in my nightie beside our old spaniel while she snores. I am on the landing of the stairs. My parents and sisters are still sleeping. She often can’t make it up both flights. Outside it’s just dawn, and I’ve come down by myself again. Tomorrow she won’t make it. Tomorrow at dawn, while everyone is asleep, I’ll find this old body on the same landing.
Sleeping breaths. I lie in the hospital bed with my knees up. All I can feel is the swollen exhaustion and aching muscles from the birth. But nestled on my thighs a little fairy sleeps, swaddled in cotton flannel. This is the smallest of my babies. One delicate finger lifts as she sleeps, perhaps to cast a spell. Her colors turn out to be mother of pearl, lavender-white blue-grey that shimmers as she turns.
Soft breaths. In the hour before she dies, Mom’s chest barely rises. Did she breathe one more time? Wait now. There. Is that another one? How soft it is. Just a wisp. Maybe one more. She’s almost there, and it’s so easy.
I hear the robin call his round burbly song. I realize time is not real at all. There’s only the one instant—the child kneeling by the old dog, the young woman holding her newborn, the daughter by her mother’s bed, the old woman watching her beloved sleep.
It’s a brilliant thing, the now. Just the awareness of perfect joy. Simply falling into the love. The robin makes it immediate and real. Now is eternity. Here is forever. Let time go. Soft breaths. Only this one breath. One more.
Now I can barely hear the robin’s call. Sorrow like a mist lies over me. The sadness is real, even though I know death is not.
As I kneel under the lilacs, as my knees press the long grass flat, what’s real is that in the kitchen Grandma is beating eggs for an angel food cake. She’s careful with her big mixer, draping a dishtowel over the top so that flour doesn’t get into the works. I’m not allowed to taste the batter because proportions must stay the same.
But when I hear the robin’s call, it’s faint. I’m a woman nursing my black-haired daughter in a small, dim bedroom. The phone rings. My husband’s voice in the other room sounds odd. He pushes the door open. His eyes are so sad. “Grandma has died.”
My hands shake as I drive. The nurse’s voice is curt. “We called. We told you.” Grandma’s face is frozen in a spasm. Her body is still warm when I touch her.
The same instant comes again, thirty years later. It’s an odd, persistent phone call, one sister calling her sister again and again until the pregnant one stops to answer. As her face crumples, I gaze into my partner’s eyes and see the same sad knowing.
Sorrow’s mist melts. The graves don’t really matter. The flat empty faces, the cold fingers aren’t really important.
This morning the birds are silent. There is wind, and the big maple leaves make a rushing sound in the wind, a soft moist shhh-shhh , but only one or two birds care to sing.
The worst is over, and I’m so glad. It has all already happened and what’s left now is to reach out. I don’t have to be afraid of anything at all. The worst is being overwhelmed by shock and pain, the thought that this should never have happened.
It doesn’t matter what happened. There is horror, grief and pain available like grains of sand.
I offer a tiny spoon of the elixir. Here, just sip a drop. I lift your head so it won’t dribble down your neck.
Yes, I know the horror. The wrongness, the rage, the terror. That is all true.
But in the silence afterwards is where we are, you and I. As if a bomb blew us to tiny bits of bone and blood. Little particles of our lives litter the beach.
The magic is the flavor of the purity of the silence, a flavor not of salty tears but of the elixir of the Divine.
Not even a birdcall has formed. The wind bends the trees, and the damp cool air brushes my cheek and lifts my hair.
Can you feel the elixir on your tongue? Doesn’t it tingle just a little? Isn’t there a touch of honey and a shiver running down your back? Do you have goose bumps yet?
The worst has happened, and in this space, this now, the magic works best. Right now, I release into what I cannot even imagine. It is possible. I know it— but what it is I do not know. No shape comes, no name.
Thank God everything has happened. Thank God—and I cannot believe I am saying this—thank God it worked out as it did.
In the silence afterwards is only this: “I loved her.” “I loved him.” How can it be that someone dies?
In the hollow of my arms something whispers. The hole, the space speaks with a harshness that rips me. The body, the mouth, the fingers—that heart—in this moment now, that one is no longer here for me. No matter how I love, how much I scream or cry, I can never touch him again, I can never look into her eyes or feel her touch in the form I adored.
How can it be that the love story ends? How can it be that the child never grows up? How can it be that my husband never stands cooking at the stove again?
Sweetness sings a low song, something new. When she was alive, I knew I loved her but I didn’t know what love meant. When I could talk to him every day, there was easy delight, lazy comfort.
On the other side of death, all I can do is kneel before love’s blinding light. I can put out my finger to touch it, seeing finally how precious and fragile he was, she was, I am.
I bow forward until my forehead touches the ground and I stay there. Oh God. Love is all that ever mattered.
There’s only one reason to get out of bed in the morning and that is to cherish. To rest my hand on a shoulder. To laugh together. Only that moment matters.
In the silence afterwards, the robin calls. I lift my head. Grandma is still in the kitchen beating eggs. Mom is still laughing at the storm as lightning crackles in the black sky. A finger brushes my shoulder. It’s hers. She’s here now, laughing with me. Nothing has changed except my confused idea that the body was her. She is here, he is here, love flows as it does, always growing, always changing, in me now, in him now, in you now. Forever.
One of the filaments that drops to me from the other side is Beauty. This is what the artist recognizes. Being able to touch it lightly, bringing it into this consciousness is what makes an artist brilliant. It is magic, wealth, power, joy from the other side that becomes touchable as the artist makes it so. It rings my intuition like a bell.
Beauty decorates this instant of taking breath. The river flows, the living water gleams as it slips past. Daisies grow on a gravely hillside, giggling points of white. The Beauty itself is what lifts me. The feeling of a soft caress lifts me too. It doesn’t matter if it’s the nursing assistant wiping food from around my mouth or my lover’s calloused hand.
Ease takes me into the flow too, the loosening when I hear my daughter’s voice. The sound of my mother’s voice was the same, years of setting the table and picture books.
The water’s movement holds magic but it’s hard to grasp. No one can touch the magic itself because it moves, a flicker of light in a dewdrop on the grass, the whoosh of wind at dawn.
When I open, I gasp because it’s everywhere, soaking us, hanging wet on every image of my life.
It can even be found in the hideous moments if I can open enough to see it. A tiny glance of understood pain in the careless remark. A flash that the sweating bully is just a maimed animal roaring his pain, even as he pulls the trigger. The bored despair of an architect who makes plastic malls. The oily black numbness of asphalt as it smothers the badger’s path to the river.
I reach up for the filament. It is so fine that it melts. But just touching it is all I need to do. Here is hope from God. The water flows on, and that is enough.
The light does not gather in me and become something. It’s more like a water fall—flashes, mist and a roar. Quick shimmering, a wet scent, cool droplets that melt, just a touch as God happens and then keeps happening. The power is that it always keeps happening, everywhere, all the time, and like a waterfall, the flow cannot be denied.
Only a fool waves his hands at the roaring flow and screams “stop here.” It never stops. Instead the pattern of light changes, slapping into this spray of joy, that splash of power, a roar of awe. This droplet kisses into sleep, that mist soothes into the release of death.
Nothing stays. Nothing stands dry and hard, and that’s what’s hard for me. I try to grab the flickering and hold it forever, and when I open my hand it’s gone.
Instead I must learn to laugh with the moving water. The bubbling light, the gleam that slips past, dancing God’s love.
Even in grief and horror, the Mystery glances off the water and shoots out to drench us. We think those are tears on our cheeks. Their salty taste is the most costly in all existence—the shocking, intoxicating agony when we see that love matters more than life.
This time the shimmering water blinds us. All we can do is lie there, silent. The waterfall roars, the mist cools us. When we finally lift our heads, our eyes have changed. We have drunk the elixir. Now as we watch the water slip past, there is only the moving light dancing to God’s rhythm. We smile and bow our heads.
It is dawn, time for worship. I pull silk around my shoulders and over my hair because that is who I am. Taking slow, deep breaths, I go to the holy place where the stones make an arch. I stand in the opening.
Ahead is utter emptiness, blackness softer than a girl’s black velvet frock. It is neither cold nor warm. I stand right at the edge and take deep breaths. There is no scent. I hear nothing at all. No breath of wind, no touch, no distance.
It is a happy, happy thing. I know that these echoing reaches know everything, every act, every thought. I can never understand it, but its safety makes me smile.
As I fall forward, the binding that holds me releases and each of my billion cells floats off to everywhere. A few float into my neighbor’s kitchen, these sit in a casino in Vegas, some rest on rocks on Pluto, some gleam in the mind of an alien billions of light years away.
My cells sing just one simple thing. “Bless, bless, bless…” Just that.
Each cell releases into atoms. The energy I thought was me is the air in a prison cell that stinks of urine. The energy makes a gleam on the wall above the raped girl. The energy shines on the man’s neck just before he hangs himself.
The awareness knows. It understands. Some people say the emptiness holds nothing at all.
What the blackness holds is every possibility: the things I can imagine—the moment pain ends, the tumor that shrinks, the day that torture stops forever.
It also holds things I cannot imagine. Worlds where bodies never hurt, worlds where there are no bodies, mist where there are no worlds.
In the Holy Blackness, the miracle just started, always. I fall forward, this body melts as my cells melt like snow in the sunshine.
I smile because I can hear the soft song. “Bless, bless, bless…. Just that.
This is the light for others. There is no “me” here. Breathing, breathing, I soften. Thoughts crowd around but I let them melt. A slow breath. Again.
Somehow there is a rhythm, not an ancient drum but as slow as a boulder, as strong as the wave that pushed me under the water. Rippling silk, bones, limbs turn into wings that pulse behind me, around me. It is nothing to rise, and I rise.
I cannot look at my wings so I don’t know what they’re made of. I can’t look because I simply do not understand. I cannot explain and I must not try. Instead, I rise. This is good— I know only that.
Does my smile matter to my sad grandmother? What about the day the robin calls and I realize I am the one singing? What about wrapping my doll in her blanket and also wrapping my shining baby daughter, all the single moment when the robin sings?
In this instant, every instant, all of time, I am the movement of the water itself, the shimmering, the slipping away.
This is the light for others. It’s not me who has wings. The One has wings made of every impossible thing. The things we cannot imagine. Not even a tumor that shrinks. Not even food for every starving person. Death that never happens. Only the shining and nothing more, nothing at all, the old man and the laughing boy ever the same. That’s what the wings are made of, how God happens, what the instant of forever is—the light for others. It’s not me at all.
What comes from the Source is God-stuff that makes a new sound. My daily work is so simple. I create space in which the God-sound can chime its holy tone. The sound comes out of the awareness itself, the place where all there is is possibility. What if. Maybe. Could happen.
It comes in a flash, like intuition. I never thought it or made it. All I did was get out of the way.
I float on the openness, neither up nor down. In. Through. During. There’s no point in trying to grab a thought, since they’re just fluff in the sky. Even the bad thoughts are just mist that dissolves.
There is movement but I cannot feel it at all. The flow, the change, the slipping past is happening deep in this openness. I relax into the deep. Darkness is okay. But it turns out that going deeper means going brighter. It doesn’t make sense again, and the surprise makes me smile.
How do I harvest God? Just by tying knots of laughter at what is and letting the elixir splash my cheeks. At the times when I cannot laugh, I shake my head in wonder, in awe at how exquisite the love is. And then opening my hands, shaking the knots loose until there is nothing but the silken flow, again.
There is no time in my beauty. In the Divine, in what is real, there is only the exquisite shining of each being. I am the gleam of God’s river as it slips into the light. The tiny girl under the lilacs, the bulky pregnant woman, the howling baby, the white-haired crone is all one instant of how Love happens. How God happens.
Everything is God happening, including this temporary cluster called body. And the only magic is the gleam of God happening.
There is no wounded child. Wait—Don’t pull back. Yes, of course, bad things happen, abuse, cruelty, beatings, contempt fall on the holy child and crush her. Except that the child is Holy. The child is the gleam in God’s eye. Pain can shadow the brightness, but it’s the light itself that is holy, that shines outside of time. Every one of us shimmers outside of time.
Here is the magic: I stop clinging to pain. God smiles. I let the light show my face. God laughs.
The magic is this one as an instance of beauty, every being as an instance of awe. Light cannot be crushed by the dark, ever. Our stories of horror belong to before and after, to the child wounded as thoughts tell the story. The timeless child is the truth. Her laughter, her quiet breathing as she sleeps is as forever as God. This is the shining we call home.
All I have to do is look for the shining. It’s the same now as it was when I sat in the long grass under the lilacs. I am the same, that tiny girl is the same. The sound of forever rings around me and I know the light is what is real. The sounds of time, death, shame, sorrow, and loneliness fall into silence.
Forever becomes the magic—beauty, laughter, grief, cherishing—the movement of the water itself, that shimmering flow.
She kneels under the lilacs in the long grass. What I think I remember is the confusion about being bad, the resentment about not being good enough, the temper, the loneliness.
But there’s also the quickness, the kindness, the worry about those who have been hurt. She hears the beauty of the robin’s call. She senses the sacred all around her. Looking back more than 60 years, I realize that no time has passed. The light is God’s light and there is no then and now. I wrap my arms around her in utter cherishing.
Another tiny child is there, as intricate as lace, as quiet as a breath. Magic gleams in her eyes and she laughs. My old mind thinks it knows how she grew into a profession. But her laughter whisks all of that away because no time has happened. She lifts an armful of leaves, throws them into the wind and dances away.
Our essence is that gleam, that cherishing. None of it changes at all because that’s God.
As I float in the Mystery of no-time, arms that I cannot understand, arms that seem impossible, reach out to wrap me in delight. Just as I wrap my arms around others, just as I see that every being is so gorgeous that the only thing to do is laugh and sing, the Source flows into me. I cannot understand it because it comes from so far. I cannot comprehend it because it is my own essence.
The movement of the water is the same—I reach for her, the Holy reaches for me.
Orange-red flashes off the robin’s round breast as she soars against the blue. The flash itself, the beauty points at what is holy. My husband’s soft eyes as he holds this baby flashes against our daughter’s straight back as she stands next to the urn at his funeral. It’s the Source, the One, the only instant of reality. Death makes love so obvious, and love lifts us out of death, past life, to no time.
I kneel under the lilacs in long, soft grass. Light flows and shimmers through me.
My husband is grinning with that sweet crooked grin of his, holding a huge bouquet of roses. It’s the same bouquet from 35 years ago, but I tell myself that the river has slipped onwards. The story I think happened is that he died suddenly, horribly.
But instead here he is, grinning at me. I love that funny grin of his.
“I was so confused, so ashamed,” he whispers, shaking his head. “I couldn’t feel….”
“I know. I know. But it’s over. That wasn’t real. We’re here.”
He waits, looking into my eyes.
“Yes, of course. I forgive you.”
“I had no idea….” He sighs. “All those people who loved me. And the girls!”
“They forgive you—or they will. They know they loved you. You just had no idea what losing you would do to them.”
He nods and searches my eyes. “Are we in love?”
“We are.” I laugh and look around. “We all are.”
The air smells of the roses in my arms. He’s healed, and at last I can feel it. I can’t stop smiling.
“Come on.” He takes my hand and pulls me along. “I want to show you.”
What is time? These are the roses from 1981. This is 1981 when we fell in love, and 1983 when our sweet baby was born, and 1987 when our laughing girl was born, and 2010 when they found his body, and now, always now, here, in love, in God. This is what is real, not time. Here, now. Only love. Only joy.
The little girl under the lilacs reaches out to pick a violet. God’s time is no time. God’s time is all time, looming over our small moments, the years of our lives. The tenderness that stretches from my pink baby toes to my bent old toes is God’s face bending close, a mother who takes each breath with her sleeping child. I wake up. The sky shines at me, the rain bathes me, every touch is a stroke of Divine fingertips. Even illness, my struggle to breathe, my heart that tears itself to shreds as it stops is a soft robe of flesh that slips off my shoulders as living water slips up and down into waves. Silence. Peace. Ease. Joy. Bless. Bless. Bless. Bless.
by Jean E. Gendreau
[ A few months ago I began the practice of writing immediately following my morning meditation.
This is the second piece to come out of that practice.]
copyright © 2016 by Jean E. Gendreau