Incarnate Endings

I dug my first grave this week. There’s simply no way to deny the physicality of life when you’re standing in a three-foot deep hole the purpose of which is to prevent animals from digging up the body of your mom’s dog.

I am not generally good with dead beings, and I was worried about my reaction when taking Brave Soul out of the box and folding back the sheet to see where her head was. To my surprise, she looked peaceful rather than disturbingly dead. She had been sick for a long time, and even her body seemed glad to be at rest. It was the first time I could imagine participating in the ritual of washing a loved one to prepare her for burial.

The day before, I had watched a master taxidermist prepare a condor carcass. At first, I internally shied away, but a friend and I had been discussing the material nature of love. It doesn’t get much more material than a man with a deep respect and affection for birds finding just the right place to poke a sharp metal rod through the skin. This collection of feathers, bones, and skin used to be a condor and is still matter, still existent in its own right, still a manifestation of love, just a different manifestation now.

While we’re alive, our spirit and our body are one. That’s incarnation. In another context, this same friend quoted a Buddhist teacher as saying, “I am a body” as opposed to “I have a body.” A body isn’t something to transcend during life. It is our existence.

There will come a time when we are no longer a body, when we are no longer part of creation in the way we’re familiar with. As we covered Brave Soul’s body with dirt, Mom said, “Take care of her, Mother Earth,” which struck me as a truth. Regardless of our beliefs, the matter of which we are composed will return to Earth’s embrace in one way or another.

I don’t know what happens to our spirits. Cynthia Bourgeault speaks of dying as “leaving the planet.” I thought that maybe Brave Soul paused on her way out, cocking her head at us before she ran off across the field.

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