From Winter to Spring: Death and Rebirth

There is something about Fall – something in that single moment when the wind takes the leaf from its limb and sends it flying across your field of vision.

Firey reds slowly fade into grey as what had been is cast away.

 

There is something about that moment right before Winter hits, as the cold air reveals the warmth of one’s breath and the forest floor becomes covered by the fabric of a passing season of time.

Something in the breaking of yesterday’s expectations under the footfalls of the new paths we walk.

 

I once walked by a tree during late Fall and its leaves, browned and shriveled by time, were still clinging to the branches.

My love for another was lingering in my heart and so the sight stopped me in my tracks.

It was a particularly windy day and one strong gust struck the tree while I was under it.

The air around me became filled with leaves mid-flight in their liberation.

I pulled a few from the top of my red hat and a smile pursed on my lips beneath my eyes.

For a moment I forgot my loneliness. The heart of the forest had shown me the way to live.

 

The heart of every man is like this tree.

We bloom for the love of Spring.

The rain nurtures our depth of character.

Our roots go deeply into a darkness we don’t understand.

We are warmed by the love of the sun.

Into Summer we burst into life.

Our hearts become homes for the birds who pass from season to season.

Of smiles in conversations over coffee.

Of doors held open for strangers.

Of the laughter of our children.

We thirst, we drink, we grow.

Finally, the Fall hits and the labor of our love is pulled from us by time.

What we knew to be true changes.

What we knew of ourselves changes.

And into Winter’s grasp, we go.

Of life without fulfillment.

Of dreams without a clear path.

Of faith without feeling.

Aye, but the Winter is our sweetest friend,

Though in the loneliness of its grasping cold we would not think it to be so.

Winter loves us to the core of our being.

We are held still in the nakedness of our losses.

We bear withness to the transformation of our pain.

As the rain turns into snow.

And Sleep comes.

And finally,

Rest.

Acceptance.

Hope.

And then again –

From Winter into Spring

We find another reason to love.

 

I am grateful for all of the love that rests on the forest floor of my character.

I am grateful for all of the promises that made my heart open and bloom as the seasons came and went.

I am grateful for the Fall, for dissillusionment, for the scattering away of my expectations.

I am grateful for purifying snows and Winter’s sweet embrace – that I am loved even in my nakedness.

 

Some of us never plant ourselves in the earth. We go from place to place, scattering much like our leaves in the winds of change.

One day my roots will cling to something real.

One day I will look to see snow atop the limbs of my love in our field.

I will watch her bloom in joy.

I will endure the heavy rains and thunder of sadness with her.

I will watch her colors burst.

And our seasons will pass until a forest of those who bloom like we bloom surrounds us.

And time will go and I will watch my loved ones grow around me.

And when I am ready – when I have sufficiently grown enough in the eyes of my God, I will be struck down and my heart’s life will be taken from me.

Everything that I know will be stripped from me by death.

And into God’s hands, the carpenter, I will go.

And the labors of my soul will build the holy city’s walls.

And a smile will purse on my lips beneath my eyes as I am made new in unimaginable ways.

 

 

 

Uncle Edward

My uncle Edward was technically my great uncle. He was my grandmother’s brother.

The man was by all accounts an artist. He was a man driven by passion but he also possessed a lethal intellect. He was a man who would tear up in his apartment listening to Beethoven. He was a man who wrote a poem about heaven on earth.

When I was younger, probably nineteen, I sat across from him at a family gathering at my aunt and uncles’ and we conversed about music.

He told me about how he learned Clair de Lune in order to win the attention of someone he loved. We spoke about the depths that music reaches. His words burst with color. I listened with a mind like an open canvas.

Last year he passed away and I was blessed by his immediate family with many of his things. The complete works of Shakespeare. Music. Paintings. Statues of David and a Chimp holding a human skull in the “Thinker’s” pose with “Darwin” written on its side.

He was in a very true sense, a reflection of the man that I know myself to be. And that is why I think I found my learning about his genuine struggles from conversations with my grandma so fruitful.

The downfall of the artist resides in their passions.

Edward loved more deeply than words can convey. His love reached the bottom of the ocean, it broke into the darkest places the mind can touch. He loved like a man who had seen the face of God loves.

But because of this vision, his passions blinded him of the nature of reality. His passions blinded him about how others might feel about certain things. His passions, armed with his intellect, were a battalion of truth seekers ready to slaughter any contradictions regardless of their validity.

That call for perfection, that drive to reach the mountain’s top – the eye seeking beauty and inspiration – it is a burden to a man who has to face disillusionment, isolation, and heartache.

Edward’s funeral cards were dated 2010. He had prepared them years before. His love had died and he had been told by the doctor that his pacemaker battery was going out and that he would die shortly after it did. Instead, he lived for seven more years.

I can imagine the hell of that situation. The hell of losing the one you love, the one who inspires you a sense of divine beauty – the one who reflects love itself to you in their smiling eyes. I can imagine the hell of them going away, and then being promised that you would be soon delivered and the disillusionment of suffering without them every single day for seven years despite what the doctor had promised you.

But without those extra years those behaviors in him, that battalion, it would have gone unchecked; unreconciled.

I think of him every once and awhile. When I’m stuck with a composition, or when I don’t know the right approach to take in a relationship I talk to him. I rest my mugs on his cup holders. I read the lines of the books he purchased and had found beauty in. I drive around listening to Beethoven.

My only regret is that I never had the chance to walk with him as who I am now. That I wasn’t able to convey my respect for his character to him.

I once posted a picture of a tree that I drew onto facebook and he commented, “As an art major this truly is a wonderful tree.”

Uncle Ed, as an artist, a musician, a lover of beauty and a feeler of the deeper things of this life – you really were a wonderful human being.

Here is a recording of my Uncle John reading Edward’s poem about heaven on earth at his funeral: poem.

 

 

The Vulture – Story of the Lighted Wood

She had the kind of glow that brought music to my mind and stillness to the world. Like candles burning atop gravestones her existence was a reminder to me that eternity awaited.

I would go to the edge of the forest every night to see her.

She moved between the trees and called me forth to her but I was struck still. Held fast to the fear that against her light, my darkness would turn her love into hatred.

One day the man in black appeared to me as I sat looking into the forest.

His presence chilled me to the bone.

“For her love, you must enter in when all the light goes out,” he spoke to me.

I thought him to be some kind of prophet and asked him how he knew this to be true.

He pointed to the stars, “It is written there. The two of you will burn against the night. As one.”

I pondered the statement and looked up at her.

She sang while she walked.

Still, the man in black lingered beside me. “It is her love that you seek, is it not?”

“Yes.”

“Then you must enter in when the light goes out.”

I did not trust him.

“Why not now?” I asked, stammering in the delivery of the question.

“Try.”

He was right. Some part in me darkly restrained the advance. My mind burned for her. My heart exploded into fire for her. But I could not move.

“When will the light go out?” I asked

But he was gone.

Moments passed and I continued watching her.

I was beginning to hate myself for my inability to advance. I could not understand why I could not move. I did not understand why I could not even call out, or why when I did it was so faint that she could not hear or paid no attention to my calling.

Furious I promised never to return to her.

“For too long I have stared into the heart of my desires. For too long I have believed the lies of this forest. There is nothing to this light. She is a phantasm. I am a fool to come here.”

With those words spoken the man in black appeared to me.

That chill returned and he said nothing.

He snapped his fingers and her music stopped. I heard her let out a cry, like someone waking from a pleasant dream into a nightmare.

“Your darkness betrays her love,” he said to me. And then the lighted wood turned black.

“Enter in.”

I blinked and rubbed my eyes. She was gone but he, he was still beside me.

“Where – where is she?”

“Enter in. It is written in the stars that you will.”

I did not trust him. I did not like how he spoke to me. But I loved her. I had to find where she had gone.

I advanced slowly toward the edge of the wood and turned to look at the man.

Suddenly his cloak burst forth into a plumage of black feathers and a giant bird took his place.

I turned back to look into the blackness of the wood.

The bird flew before me to the edge of the wood and I entered in behind it.

 

 

Sticks cracked heavily under my footfalls breaking the cycle of my mind’s silent racing to find her.

Where was she? That love that I had seen, that love that I had cherished, that which had rendered me immobile but had set my heart aflight.

I reached forth with my hands extended before me and felt the damp bark of the trees.

I moved around them listening for the fluttering wings of the bird, my only guide.

But with each footstep, I felt more and more gravity in my heart. It was a weight I had never felt before, for I had cherished the comfort of her presence. I had gorged the appetite of my soul’s desires to its fill and now, now I was to learn of love’s starvation. Now I was left to face the darkness I felt unworthy to show her.

The light of the bird disappeared and the man in black drew beside me again.

“What do you hope to find in these woods, Vulture?” he asked.

“Why do you call me that?” I asked confused.

“You are a vulture. You feast upon her death in the night. You rehearse the memory of who she was to you. You exhume her love. It gives you life.”

His words pained my heart. It did not feel right to me to be called that. I did not trust him.

That cool presence washed upon me and added a cold fire to my heart’s aching.

“I know not anymore whether to believe what you say or not,” I replied wearily.

“For years you gazed upon her face, feasting on a love that are not worthy of. She is a dove. You are a vulture. In time you will come to see the truth.”

I leaned against a tree to catch my breath and felt nauseous. Now more than ever, the weight of darkness was in my heart. Like a cave opening beneath a pool of moonlit water everything that had reflected love was draining from within me. I needed her there, but she was gone. The lighted wood of my desires was black.

The man spoke again, “You made her up then. You’re simply insane.”

“No,” I replied. But I did not trust my own words.

“Yes. Yes, you made her up. The love you gazed upon you imagined. Soon you will come to recognize the nature of your fallen wings, Vulture.”

I grew angry at him, “You told me to come into the forest. You promised me -”

But he was gone.

Only the chirping of the insects broke the silence.

“Where are you?”

There was no reply.

I pushed back off of the tree, feeling the darkness of my inmost being setting into my eyes. All was lost. The very meaning for which I lived was a lie.

I shook the idea.

“You damned liar.” I spat, “Come back to me!”

But the man did not appear.

 

With a clenched fist I took a few more paces.

Finally, I had broken into a clearing in the wood.

A paper moon hung in the sky and illuminated the opening in the wood. It’s light reminded me of her.

The very thought brought me to my knees. I missed her. I needed to know she was ok. I needed to see her smile again. But she was gone.

It felt as though my body was melting into the ground.

Then I heard them call me.

“Vulture!”

I looked up and saw a man armed with a spear eying me with violent intent.

Another man shouted, “This battle is between us Wolf!”

On the other side of the clearing, another man looked upon me, also clutching a spear.

“Stag, do not be a fool. Do you not understand the consequences of our finding him? All will end now. If we allow this to come to pass everything will end.”

“We are powerless against fate. We must honor our responsibility,” replied Stag.

Wolf spat and drew near to me.

Stag came to my side as well.

“Why do you call me Vulture?” I asked them.

Wolf lowered his spear to my throat, “He doesn’t even know that he is the Vulture. This is not the will of fate. We should slay him and return to our war.”

Stag placed his spear to the throat of the other warrior and spoke to me, “You are the Vulture of love’s vision. You are the watcher of divine love. You are the promised end to our eternal conflict.”

“I rather like our conflict” growled Wolf.

The tip of his spear cut into me a little, but I felt nothing. I felt as though nothing they were saying mattered. That without love, nothing mattered.

“I don’t understand,” I replied breathlessly.

“Innocence tempered by wisdom born of suffering is the perfect judge,” replied Stag.

“Judge us, fool!” shouted Wolf.

“You are our judge,” added Stag.

Just then the branches around us rustled and from beyond them burst forth a male stag with seven points. Behind it a large wolf gave chase.

It leapt upon the stag’s back, dug its jaws into the back of its neck, and brought it to the ground.

Both warriors fell to their knees and dropped their spears at the sight.

The three of us watched the stag struggle to fight back but eventually it fell to its death to the wolf.

I turned to look at the man with the stag tattooed onto his skin.

He was breathing heavily, sweat beaded atop his forehead, and tears fell from his face.

The other warrior wore a look of zealous delight on his face. He laughed maniacally as other wolves appeared.

“I came to this forest to find my love,” I whispered.

“You came to the forest to judge us,” replied Wolf. “Now, judge – who is the strongest God on the island of fate. The wolf, or the stag?”

I found myself both attracted to and repulsed by the dark delight with which he spoke his words. For he spoke them with the kind of knowing I so longed for in my own heart. The kind of knowing she had reinforced in me when I looked at her. But it was also the kind of knowing that told me that this life was meaningless without her.

The other warrior spoke, “You will find your love. It is a consequence of your decision. Judge us.”

His words gave me hope.

“How shall I judge you?” I asked.

Wolf stood upright, “Surely my God is stronger than his God! He has torn his God to shreds! Look at how we feast upon the flesh that is weaker than our own! Look at how we hunt them down and conquer them!”

The other warrior stood upright, “Surely my God is stronger than his God. For with his life, with his sacrifice – he nourishes the very life within them! Without the blood sacrifice of my God, there would be no life in him!”

Wolf poured wine into his cup and handed it to me, “Drink from my cup. My God is more powerful.”

Stag poured wine into his cup and handed it to me, “Drink from my cup. My God is the giver of life.”

“I do not want to drink from your cup,” I replied. “None of it matters to me.”

“You are the Vulture. You must drink from the cups of death to live.”

“I do not wish to judge you. I do not care about living without my love.”

“Wolf became angry. You are bound by fate to drink a cup and judge. Choose!”

Stag too grew angry, “Surely you must understand that nourishment is the foundation of life. Choose a cup! Obey your fate!”

I felt nothing. I cared not for their ideas about their gods. All that I cared about had been lost in the darkness. The darkness that I had brought. The darkness that I feared the most. My own darkness.

Black feathers shuffled before my eyes as the man in black appeared in front of us.

He spoke coldly to me, “Choose or I will end your life. You are the Vulture. The love you gazed upon you are not worthy of. You must choose or I will kill you.”

His words broke what remained intact within my heart. I did not want to be responsible for her fading away into the night. I did not want to be responsible for it. He was right it was my fault but how could I have helped it? I was powerless to my loving her. How could I have done anything about my darkness. It had been within me. I grew angry.

“I am not your Vulture!”

“Choose!” the man in black yelled at me.

“I do not believe God to be just powerful!” I yelled at Wolf.

“I do not believe God to be just nourishing!” I yelled at Stag.

“And I do not believe myself to be a Vulture!” I yelled at the man in black.

Rage filled all of their eyes.

It matched my own.

“Kill me then! I will not drink!”

Pain struck both of my sides as their spears tore into me.

I heard him laughing.

I heard them all laughing.

 

 

The man in black laughed at the dead man in front of him. He laughed as the dead man began to take the shape of a bird.

He laughed as the feathers and beak appeared on the corpse.

He laughed up until the moment that the corpse erupted into fire.

For the love he slaughtered was not vulturous.

The island of fate was set ablaze and all of the fallen idols with all of their fallen ideals were incinerated.

The sky was filled in a radiant light.

The innocent man was not a vulture.

His love had not been a lie. He simply had to shed his darkness.

He woke to find her smiling eyes as she embraced him.

Their love was a Pheonix.

 

Charred and tattered the man in black retreated while the island burned away. He took shelter in a cave and died clutching his own scroll of fate. For he was the vulture and he was the only thing left remaining on the island for himself to devour.

 

Author’s note: Be sure to read the vulture if you wish to further understand the lessons within this narrative.
Best,
N

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Vulture

Benjamin walked toward the podium to the applause of the crowd, one hand raised out of appreciation.

He paused for a moment, lifting the microphone to meet his stature, and calmly looked out until we quieted.

I was a boy then and recall my eagerness and anticipation for his words still today.

 

He began, “The Island of Fate was for a long time hidden from us. As you all now know, this is no longer the case. I was fortunate enough to partake in the expedition that led to its discovery and, subsequently, was the one to discover the body of the vulture and the scroll.”

Clearing his throat, he gave some details that bored me as a child. Details regarding the integrity of the paper, estimates of its age and antiquity, a hypothesis about the plants used as ink, and finally he began to talk about how he came to discover the enormous bird that they had found and of the scroll itself.

“With my pistol drawn I entered into a narrow passageway carved into the rock. I only discovered it because I went to tie my shoe and saw it behind the vines.”

He chuckled and continued, “At the end of the passage there was a circular room with seven stars engraved in the stone. There, in the center, was the corpse of the vulture lurched over and decayed on the floor. I almost shot it honestly.  At a glance, the bird’s corpse looked like it was some sort of living horror, especially in the torchlight. As you surely know from the pictures, it is an oddly shaped specimen, massive, and cloaked in black feathers. Clutched in its talons was the scroll.”

We applauded then.

 

Graciously he raised his hand, “It is an absolute honor to read to you, today, the translation of the scroll.”

I recall the look in my mother’s eyes as she watched Benjamin, my father, deliver the speech. They were filled with the kind of light that only a love of immeasurable depth can begin to reflect. All of the years of him away had amounted to this moment.

 

We stopped applauding and he began to read,

“On this island of warring nations life and death battle one another. Every year each nation offers a warrior to the clearing. It is there that they fight.

One year, an elk was chased into the clearing by wolves at the time of war. There, it was slaughtered in front of the eyes of the two warriors.

Wolves are sacred to the tribe of death and elk are sacred to the tribe of life.

The warrior of death shouted, “Don’t you see, our god is stronger than your god! Death always wins. Give up your foolish ways and embrace us once and for all.

The warrior of life shouted back, “Don’t you see – our god has given your god life in the sacrifice of itself. Lay down your weapons and honor us in gratitude”.

We are the judges of their contradiction.”

 

When he finished reading the translation, the hall was silent. I looked at my mother and recall the look of confusion on her face.

I too was confused and recall thinking, ‘All of those years away for that?’