I want to say that I have held death and while uncompromising in that not only will it take you when it is your time, it will also not take you when it is not your time. It cannot be coerced or pleaded to on either count, it is honest. In many ways, it has more integrity than life. Perhaps because it has nothing to prove. It’s not trying to impress you or keep you around. It has given up on being part of the whole pantheon. It’s happy being a loner. It quietly does its job without need for recognition. I respect that rigor, that silent, private, dutiful day-in-day out perfect record of death that demands no acknowledgement, doing its bidding solely because that is what is to be done. This seems honorable to me.

There is something heartwarming about acknowledging the invisible hard-worker of death. After the awkward silence and stares. After my posturing and defenses subside. When you let your guard down and sit in the pinhole of the night and allow it to pull you through into a sky that is not even populated by stars. When you shimmy off flesh and prayer that you may, like the fish-line boned cats that pull themselves through crevices, make it to death’s gate and knock. But this time politely.

You knock the way the living knock on the Zen gate, who would curl their backs into giant question marks against the temple wall awaiting entry. Day in, day out, nothing. No response. The determination of the soul tested. A determination only true desire could endure. Until one day the tiny, and they are always tiny, Zen master in silence, again it is always in silence, opens the gate. You know what to do. You leave the flesh you so loved, that was so tender and warm and innocent. That felt like a humid night on your bones. You say goodbye. You feel its bewilderment. It has no idea what it has done, why you would leave it behind. It promises to be better. It promises that this time it will not swell and drip. And because you loved this flesh, because you lived well having tried to love death, this is where your heart breaks open big enough to hold the both of you at the same time.

“No,” you say firmly, “listen to me. You must listen. It is what you did right. It is how you loved recklessly and indiscriminately. It is that you refused the poison of protection. Do you understand me? You loved me as only you could,” and you draw the body’s eyes to your own and see that innocence. You want to remain. Scoop it back up, go home and let it roam as the sweet animal it is.  But timing is an exacting god who suffers no fools. The gate is closing. You scribble a note, “To whomever finds this body, it is a good body, filled with love and kindness. It has endured what few others have and remains pure of heart. Please help it find a good home.”

You steel yourself away knowing you have done the only thing that would save you both. You went to meet the one who un-makes, who pulls the threads from the fabric and puts them at her discretion back into the basket from which she will weave her new tapestries. You know, in the poignancy of the moment, the emotions pregnant and ready to pop, that even this will be recycled perhaps into the heart of a young Indian woman who sits by the river, her infant now breathless, swaddled in cloth, in that moment where the passing of one’s life will have that of another’s and never be the same.

It will be woven back into the music that, tremulous, leaves tears on the very edge of the lid, shaking, not yet breaking and falling down the cheek. What was mine will be distributed amongst many. The art, the stunning carvings pain designed my interior with, the gallery of experience given to those in need of beauty in the midst of the destruction. The moan of one living when the building crumbles, the courage of the man who jumps in unthinkingly after the young girl. It is a chord, not a note: a chord wherein the sound is the agony that blends with the courage, the kindness, the salvation. Of one sound.

And so, I enter. And Death is there, skeptical. Another gawker, another pagan or Satanist come to get a glance at the big, bad Death. Another junkie who did not know their limits. Or a Christian who is going to spend the whole conversation talking about Jesus. Yes, this is something of a humble brag, but I wanted nothing of that. I sat down. Okay, so I was nervous. I shook a bit. I was not fearless in her face. But I was sincere.

“I’d like to get to know you if you’d let me…on your terms of course.” She wasn’t so sure. People can be quite cunning at this table. Everyone has an agenda. She stared at me, the black marble eyes you might expect.

When I don’t know what to do, I just let my heart be felt. You never really convince anyone of anything. I sat and let her look inside. I opened the closet doors, the cabinets, scrap books. I made it clear she could take as long as she liked. I had no secrets. Or, if I did, they were secrets I was keeping from myself as well. Secrets we would discover together.

“Why?” she whispered and I don’t know for sure but I could swear I saw her eyes tear up.

“Because I say I love, but I am a liar. I have not loved you. I’ve refused to know you. And my whole life is contorted, growing around this refusal.”

She stands in black robes like the robes of the women in Dubai with Chanel beneath. She walks methodically over to the kettle. So slow that she defines slowness. She moves in a way that I want to draw in close to her, to be in the groundswell of her peace. There is a self-possession about her we do not know in gods or angels. They look from here so feeble by comparison, so pedestrian. She can sense that I am spellbound. She shocks into my mind the nightly prayers to be relieved of the bondage; my nightly rejection of her.

“I am sorry,” I whisper. “I am so, so sorry.” She holds to the counter. She is the beauty every woman wants to be, the smoldering beauty, the smoky eyes. The beauty of sex.

The beauty of angels has a self-conscious quality to it, their blond hair the sun, their blue eyes the sky. As if there were an automated response built into human biology. The beauty of illumination like golden wings thrumming through the heart cavity, the shimmering and shivering through of the spheres. It’s all so… upward. So tremulous and reverent. It requires nothing of us. They enter with their band, confident that they can move the human soul in the appropriate ways and like clockwork, you are there on your knees, in awe, in testimony.

She requires a deeper look. But it is a devastating look, because to see her, you must admit that you cannot escape her. And more so, that you desire her. Your self-willed, eternity-seeking self winces a thousand times. You are at the gala of the gods for their annual charity event, the usual request for generosity. The harps and castratos. A pope here, a guru there. These angelic figures put together in sublime order. A collective gasp as She enters the building alone, the red carpet covering the marble staircase. Everyone stops dead in their tracks.

Perhaps her hair done as Medusa or Kali, but black… always black. And you can feel how no judgement of her can conceal the truth that she is mesmerizing, that in the silence of the heart it is she who reigns. She knows this and allows the angels to cluck like jealous chickens and flap their wings.

I am not a courageous woman. I have cowered many a time, plagued by the feminine need to be liked. I have supplicated myself to more than one sadistic fool. I have pandered to the accusers who, jacked up on terror, would throw their power so unused and rotted at me. I have bobbed and weaved my way through an insensitive world as an overly sensitive person. I am not the proud warrior Joan of Arc; I am not the image they hold up in their women’s marches. My breasts are not hardened into proud weapons. My legs shake until I fall onto a bed beneath another lover.

I do not stand up for myself. I lie down for myself. And just as a General wears the stripes of those he has taken down, I wear the stripes of those I have taken down.

I say this because in this moment, I demonstrated a courage I had never known in myself. I stood. Mind you I am entirely naked. I have no flesh. I’m dripping wet. I am all nerve endings. To risk rejection here is to risk catastrophic pain. But I believe I can safely say that it was not me, of my own accord, that stood. And with a gentleness and grace that again was not my own, moved over to her.

But then came the most startling part. From me issued hawk or crow or raven, the most rapacious hunger. Wings black and beetle-phosphorescent rise from my back and enfold the two of us, draw her in until her rigid body, the rigor mortis, softens into my own.

“I only want to love you.” A voice issues, but from where and to whom is unclear.

There is a searing down my groin, her talons striking though my organs. The flapping of terror coming from inside my wings, the beating heart that threatens to beat to eruption. I know only to love her as I had wanted to be loved, beyond my protestations, beyond my barbed wire and fight, to be loved into submission by love itself. Only nature can trump nature.

There is no room for hesitation. I can neither squeeze nor release. I can only hold. For days we remain in that room, she, a cat in a bag. A wild one. A beast. A monster. A devil. A demon. Evil. Depravity. A howl that pierced the ear. A tearing asunder of all that existed within me.

The voice played in quadraphonic sound throughout the room. “I want only to love you,” to whom and from who unclear. Until I had no defense. Love as I’d known it had been worn down, gone home. Determination. Belief. Hope. I had nothing left and she was just getting started. We were now weeks, months, years into it. Who knows, it was time of a different currency.

Finally exhausted, I crumpled like one of her robes to the floor. The mouthpiece used my mouth. “I want only to love you,” I heard myself speak. Until I heard the most beautiful laugh play throughout the room. Rolling laughter. Laughter that was the source of all laughter. The echo coming from the well where we would draw laughter from. I looked for her and realized that she had become the laughter and was rolling through me in delight. I was laughing at the laughter, the laughter contagious to itself. A baby’s laughter. An old woman’s laughter. A teenager sneaking out’s laughter. Two lovers’ laughter.

“And I you,” she whispered back. “And I you.”

The entire universe once existed in fear of death.  Yama, the first man to know mortality and, from its knowledge be reborn as the Lord of Death, would emerge from his domain of the Narakas to stalk the realms, taking whichever life he deemed ripe with karma.  This was simply the way things were.

One day, Yama became so taken by a mad darkness that he began a rampage threatening to devour all of existence.  Manjushri, The Bodhisattva of Wisdom, seeing the ignorance and suffering of Yama’s actions, was so motivated by his compassion that he determined to intervene.  Manjushri then emanated in the form of a great mirror, calling Yama to look into its reflection.  In the Mirror of Wisdom, Yama saw his own form revealed in it’s true nature as Vajrabhairava, The Conqueror of Death.  From that day on, Yama, now as Vajrabhairava, would serve the enlightenment of all beings, urging them to practice before their form be subject to the impermanence inherent in the nature of their being.

Viewed with wisdom, death is realized as a link in the cycle of becoming and dissolving away again, integrated into the great flow of being.  When we meditate on the mandala, we too are gazing into a mirror of wisdom, revealing our impermanence and the path to liberation that lies within it.

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