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Dying Racoons & Birthing Cats
and how maybe they aren't opposites
One of the feral cats that stalks these woods gave birth yesterday. I heard the mewing off the side of the road where I was walking to get a raspberry bush transplant that a neighbor had left by his mailbox beside a sign that said “free.” My brain didn’t initially register what it was hearing, and I unconsciously wrote it off as the vague sound of birds. But I caught sight of the mother cat on a log and she froze, staring me down; or, more accurately, staring down the leashed dog at my side. That’s when I realized what I was hearing wasn’t the normal prairie noises. It was the sound of new life.
I took the dog home and returned, hoping to find the kittens and do what? I wasn’t sure. But it was silent. I investigated a pile of brush large enough to house my entire family (a remnant of the 2020 derecho, no doubt), certain they were under it. But their hiding spot alluded me. Even in my disappointment I had to admire the mother’s work. They were nestled somewhere deep, behind a fortress of forest fallings, quietly nursing warm, gentle milk from the wildest minx this prairie has seen.
I had planned to write this email about death, to tell you the truth. I had planned to tell you about the dying racoon my children found on Good Friday and how we dug a grave for him on Holy Saturday. I had planned to tell you about how we got our first chicks and how the one I loved most died; how I held her in my palm and witnessed her last gasping breath. I had planned to tell you about the field mouse we buried and about the frozen toad my children found when the backyard pond thawed. How we buried them all under the feet of our Mary statue because it brings my children comfort. Because it brings me comfort. I had planned to ruminate to you about how I’m learning there is so much more death out here on the land than there was in town; how the closer to life you are, the closer to death too.
But I heard the sound of newborn kittens last night and remembered that the earth has a way of keeping balance. Death is not the opposite of life, but a continuation of it. All part of the circle. All part of the whole.
Yesterday the United States reached 1 million coronavirus deaths. The past two years have been indelibly marked by death: the conversations around it, the anxiety about it, the desire to protect others from it. The internalization of a constant awareness of human mortality has been hard on our bodies and minds — and continues to be. We have held too much.
And so we must, in faith, be looking for signs of life. Its spring, after all: time to fill our nervous system with the promise that life continues on, that winter is not an ultimate end but only one small part of the cycle. That in the fullness of the Divine, death is not the opposite of life, but a mysterious continuation of it. That in the fullness of the Divine, there are no opposites, there is only one Whole.
Find me lately:
National Catholic Reporter - an excerpt from Rewilding Motherhood
FemCatholic - a different excerpt from Rewilding Motherhood ;)
St. Anthony Messenger magazine (print edition) - Five Ways to Celebrate Your Body
Patreon - continuing the female mystics series with Hildegard of Bingen
Behind the scenes, I have been busy creating an as-yet-announced virtual retreat opportunity for June. My vision is to extend an opportunity to start summer off with a healthy relationship with our bodies; including with an awareness of how our bodies and spiritualities go hand-in-hand.
I am still in the planning phase, but hope to open registration in a week or two. (Don’t worry, you’ll get an email!) In the meantime, if you know you’ll be interested, you might want to go ahead and grab a copy of Luminous, my guided journal for body-soul integration that will be the basis of the retreat content.
May your spring be a holy space where life and death, in all their forms, are kept in balance. May you find nourishment in the idea that there are no polarities; only cycles. And may you take seriously the spiritual practice of paying attention.
Until next time,