While the morning sun warms my back, I gaze towards the west in silence. Grass clippings coat the shins of my jeans from kneeling to pull weeds a moment earlier. Silence, stillness, complete solitude away from people, away from the busyness of the world, I sit and listen.
No clouds in the sky, just blue perfection. I notice a large bird of prey floating lazily above a pasture down the hill from where I am watching. It glides high above the grassy fields, further and further away from where I am.
My hands resting at my sides feel the need to move, to be active, just a little. I clench and unclench fistfuls of grass, the freshly cut blades rough in my palms. The blades feel dry, but not brittle, their coarse texture a testament to summer’s inevitable approach, proof the dewy mornings of spring are becoming but a memory.
A songbird swoops past and lands in a cottonwood, lifting its voice for me, its audience of one, to enjoy. I can’t see it well enough to identify it, and its song is unfamiliar. Welcome, friend! I find myself thinking. An osprey sounds in the distance, undoubtedly heading towards the reservoir. The silence returns.
There is no breeze to cool me, as the sun continues to bake my back. I remain still, unmoving.
I am waiting.
Some silences feel like a void, a vacuum, a lack of something that needs to be immediately filled. Usually when I sit here in this particular place, the silence is deafening, demanding I acknowledge what is missing, who is missing.
Today’s quiet comes with an unexpected numbness, a resolve to continue, yet an exhaustion so deep I feel incapable of feeling. I am existing, but not much more. I’m not upset either, just here, just still. There are some moments of stillness that arrive as tormentors, others as givers of peace. Some moments of silence are easier to embrace, rare quiet moments that invoke acceptance instead of creating an upset. Today is a rare day of acceptance, mostly because I am too tired to feel.
Movement catches my eye and I see a swallowtail butterfly flit by, dancing in the motionless air, an impeccable image of vibrant, lively beauty.
The butterfly barely moves from my view when the silence is audibly disrupted by the sound of two ravens flying above me. As they head into the stand of fir trees, they sound like an old bickering couple disagreeing on where they should eat their early dinner. Their cacophony continues to reverberate, and I work actively to tune them out for a moment.
I feel present and absent all the same. I am here, but I have no depth. I am, yes, but barely.
Why this patch of grass? Why do I sit here in hopes of making myself feel truly grounded?
The breeze timidly moves the air, finally, and with it comes a new source of irritation: a metal pinwheel starts squeaking behind me. The elements haven’t been kind to the metal bearings within it, and it persistently works to break the silence.
I grasp the grass again and try to tune out the noise, which soon enough silences itself.
The breeze has stilled.
The seconds tick past into minutes, I remain seated, unmoving.
I just want to be.
I reach to my right, absentmindedly. My fingers brush the granite and I begin to feel the void renewed. My fingers trace the letters, the numbers, the symbols, but I can’t look at the same time as I touch. It’s acknowledging without actual acknowledgement. It’s me barely being honest with my fingers, feeling where I am, while trying not to actually feel.
“Dad, I’m really worried this time.” I whisper into the silence of the cemetery.
A dull ache of sadness settles in, yet my heart is filled with gratitude. Every time I visit my dad’s grave, I sit and revel at the privilege I have to mourn someone worthy of being mourned. So many people never have a parent worthy of grieving. Even in my misfortune of having my dad die so much younger than any of us ever expected, I’m one of the lucky ones.
No tears today, just resolute sadness and stillness.
Alone in the silence for minutes and minutes on end, I know I’ve lost all track of time. Unmoving among the unmoving, alone among the hundreds, I remain seated with a group of beloved people who have departed. I continue to wait, for nothing, for anything.
My pulse quickens at a sudden disruption. I see visitors approach, intruding upon my solitude. Unexpected, unannounced, and unnerving, their soundless arrival has me unsure how to respond. They appeared with stealth, and are now far too near to my personal space for comfort. Their peculiar red faces peer at me, making eye contact. I draw a breath in as they swiftly pass by and circle back, staring me down with great interest.
In the angst of finding myself in the cemetery, having allowed myself to embrace painful emotions, I quickly find myself at odds with the rising emotions I am suddenly feeling in response to these unanticipated visitors.
I begin to laugh.
I laugh at their faces, their unexpected presence is so near I feel as though I could reach out and touch them. It is nothing short of ridiculous. With merely twenty feet of distance between me and these unannounced visitors, I think I feel the air move from them passing by me.
It’s a surreal moment, a moment to carry me out of my stormy mood into the light of day. I glance down to my wrist were I have the words “Peace Be Still” tattooed within waves, a reminder to still myself when I’m struggling, to remember the storm will pass. Apparently, I’ve learned to be still better than I realized, as the unexpected visitors inspecting me where I sat stationary in the grass quickly prove.
Who are the guests, the red-faced intruders? They are a curious pair of turkey vultures, likely hoping I am soon-to-be-departed so they can undertake their next meal.
Laughter fills my lungs as I stand to my feet while they yet again pass over me. To the pair floating above I look upwards and call out, “Unlike everyone else here, I’m not dead yet!”
I’m exhausted, but I’m not dead yet.
It might sound odd, but I like to look for moments to learn from everywhere I go, even in painful places like the cemetery. Some days I only find a reminder to acknowledge I still have the ability to breathe. I’ve come to accept that it’s okay if that is all I uncover, a simple reminder that I am alive.
There are a lot of days when I think we get caught up feeling like we’re sitting in the cemetery watching the vultures wait for our demise. And truly, we are all terminal. We aren’t immune to death, and we can’t escape reminders of it.
Yet while we are still here, still living, still breathing, some of us still barely hanging on, I am determined it is possible to find moments of joy. Every single one of us embodies a resilience greater than any of us knows. We have the ability to find delight, even in the most adverse places, if we choose to seek it. We just have to be willing to look for those moments, even in the most unexpected places. And I am thoroughly convinced, if we choose to open our hearts to this idea, those moments of joy are bound to arrive. Just don’t be surprised if they arrive on the wings of a vulture.