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Bathing Quan Yin

In our vestige of woodland, everything's awake. Bloodroot, bleeding heart, trillium. Jacks-in-the-pulpit, lilies of the valley, Virginia bluebells. Wood ducks and orioles. A dance of rabbits in the grass.

We welcomed the season by taking our statue of Quan Yin down to the lake for a ritual bath. She stands, winter and summer, in a protective curve of low, mossy stone wall, and she's heavier than she looks. Cement, yes, but also she bears the tears of the world, and that's got to be heavy, said one of the strong women who carried her.

All five of us were wearing garlands of flowers on our heads — bright carnations woven with willow. Our long-time neighbors stood on their porch and watched us like a show. The new neighbor could only manage "hello" with no eye contact — she was so embarrassed for us. "Happy spring!" I told her. Oh well.

At the water's edge we poured pitchers of water over Quan Yin, and scrubbed her with toothbrushes until her face was smooth and serene again, her draperies clean. We did our own work of cleansing and forgiveness, and the wind came up suddenly, gusting fiercely but not cold — a blessing of air.

We headed back up the hill. (All the neighbors had disappeared.) The two lovers who carried Quan Yin were much of a height, and their steps exactly matched. They were intent, deeply attuned to each other, beautifully focused.

Sage and I were following slowly, when our other friend came to us, showing a perfect robin's egg in her hand. Uncracked, undamaged by its fall — "It must have happened when that wind came through," she said. "It's warm," she said.

Quan Yin was back in her place, and we gathered around her. The egg went from hand to hand. The life was still thrumming in the egg, and when it came to me I couldn't let it go. I knew no way to return it to its nest, or to nurture it to independence. But I couldn't let it go. I was stuck — in this celebration of change, in this season of change, stuck.

The one who found the egg said, "Death is half of my cosmology." She felt honored and blessed, she said, that death was a part of our ritual. She gently took the egg from my hand and laid it at Quan Yin's feet. We put our garlands there, too, and went indoors. We knew the egg would be dinner for some creature, and sure enough, in the morning it was gone.

Spring, the season of riotous reviving life, of baby everythings everywhere you look, is also, for many of us, a time of death, or of death remembered. It's commonplace knowledge among those who work with the depressed or dying, that people will hold on through the winter and die in spring. And their survivors are left with the weird sensory cross-wiring that pairs body-grief with the beauty of new growth.

My father died in May, in the heart of spring, 21 years ago. It took me years to unstick that unbearable disaster from the greening of the trees, the blooming of spring flowers all around the hospital where he lay dying. Of course, some of the springs since then have brought their own terrible losses, as well as joys. The calendar of a life gets more and more crowded with anniversaries, until every day deserves a mourning candle, fireworks, a feast, a story, flowers — all of it.

My cosmology welcomes all the parts of the cycle, but in practice, I get stuck sometimes, in pity or grief, the robin's egg alive in my hand. Then it's lucky I have wise friends. Where I'm going with this, in this lifetime, is toward a deep understanding (not there yet) that whatever I hold in my hand has everything in it — grief, joy, compassion, loss, exquisite beauty, everyday meaning, enormous potential, and cellular interrelationship with everything else.

As soon as I write that, I want to say, "Uh-oh. I better have lots of wise friends to come unstick me when I fugue over paperclips." Amazing how hard it is to take intention and insight seriously, as if I'm the one who can't quite make eye contact with that person who put flowers in her hair and took Quan Yin to the lake for a spring bath.

I wish us all a silly and delightful season, in which we perceive deeply, wildly, truly everything that we hold in our hands.

Graphics Credits

  • Quan Yin in the Garden. © 2006 Sage Starwalker. All rights reserved.
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