We like to think death and evil(s) are Lenten while birth and joy are Christmassy. Not convinced. It meets are aged need for dualism and compartmentalizing but that is not a good long-term strategy for coping. It kicks the can down the road. They say that getting out of Hell is just about putting on a new set of glasses; but perhaps the best thing is to remove all the glasses (rose colored and dark) and let life happen in its real way, without our hocus pocus.
This vessel is the premature funeral urn for my beloved dog Kai. He is alive but aging quickly, as am I. Aging. Quickly. I made it recently for an exhibition of 12 vessels but slowly realized that this one was for Kai-the-dog and so pulled it from the show and placed it next to mine. Kai has been the light in my life and so the glaze, which reflects the colors in a New Mexican Sunset – sandy rose, pine, the pinks and blues of the sky – are setting up a yellow agate filial. Art reflects life. Stone reflects light. Glaze holds the elements of earth which make color reflect light on clay.
Last week Kai could not get into the car any more. This week, the bed became impossible for him to climb. There remains time for our friendship, but the clock is ticking louder now. Tick tock. Tick tock. Like one of those annoying wall clocks on a silent, humid, hot afternoon in a southern novel before the iced tea arrives.
We live. We die. Things begin. Things end. They die or they are killed.
Christmas began its week of feasts with the death of innocents. Not so festive really but easy to ignore unless you are a monk. It falls right after Christmas when most of us are returning Uncle Ned’s horrible sweater or Aunt Mildred’s Aspic mold. More innocent death. But, store credit so… “yay.”
Is not this life a marbled rye of light and darkness? Of grace and evils. Of friendships and betrayals. Of evil bishops and good ones. Of kindnesses and of cruelties. Of invitations and attacks. Perhaps Kai-the-Dog’s goodness to me these last 13 years (his birthday is January 1st!) is the closest thing I will come to knowing God in this lifetime. And if so, it was more than enough to convince me. Kai’s love, and the love of some friends and my family. But the unconditional love of a Black Lab is quite something to behold.
A baby is born in Bethlehem. But then a man dies near Jerusalem three decades later. Trees go up and are decorated with tinsel and lights. But then trees come down and are kicked to the curb. A prophet calls for us to make the pathways straight and then is left to die in a wager between a father and daughter. The story is not clean. Not tidy, the way we make it seem in the liturgies we so meticulously fondle. All I know at this point is that burying or white-washing suffering only creates more of it, exponentially.
Our work is not to raise our cry for justice. That will come, but not on our terms. Our work is to open the door to the suffering which knocks, then make it a cup of tea. Fluff its chair-pillow. Invite it to take off its shoes. Chat a bit. Our suffering, like our demons, just want to be heard. If we will just listen, we will find some peace.
How shall we live? Well, once we have wiped away the angels and incense, a good plan is simply to love what is. No matter how marvelous. No matter how horrific. As my beloved Jewish friend says: “Where is it written that your life should be better, easier?”
We live and we die. Until Kai dies, his urn will hold his dog biscuits. The nice ones. The ones he loves. Then, when it is time, it will hold his ashes.
Mine holds Oreos. For now.