If you have been to one of my presentations these past few years you will recognise this photo. I use it constantly and like to tell the story of the dung beetle, a scarab. How it finds a nurturing environment for its young in material that others have discarded. This particular one, the African Dung Beetle, is rolling elephant dung. For me a symbol of no matter how difficult a situation may seem there is possibility for some joy or new discovery that may grow out of it. The dung beetle reminds me of many things: of persevering in the face of the daily difficult; of continuing to dream and transform myself no matter how challenging the present may be. It also for me somehow has come to symbolise the work I do. That many may shy away from and do not want to dwell on. The frontier territory of death, distress, difficult news, and dying. Only recently did I actually look up the dung beetle on the web and was intrigued to find that the scarab of ancient Egypt, was significantly associated with the ritual of funerals and signified transformation and renewal. Somehow this powerful symbol has inadvertently occupied my imagination and my dreams. Perhaps we all are collective in this dream world of ours as Jung has suggested.
So today the scarab again occupies my dream and day space as I sit with reflections of the week. A week of starting this blog writing project. A week of commitment to writing often. Just writing. No matter the judging mind that keeps me away. A week of much difficulty and distress for family, and my other families too. A week of being with pain and fatigue, of being with the grief of loss already experienced and continuing to experience, as well as overwhelming shock and the anticipatory grief of overwhelming loss. A week of sitting with parents as they worked through the last moments of their son’s life and asked for reassurance that they had done everything right. That there was nothing more or different that they could have done in those last moments. Parents who intuitively listened to their son’s last wishes, who gave unconditional love and care with the utmost of gentleness. Having responded to their desperate midnight call, I had the grace filled experience of being with them at the moment of their son’s death, helping them wash and lay out his young body, and sit with them as they lit candles and prayed with their other children. Prayed for themselves, for strength to make it through the coming days, and gave thanks for the beautiful life that was their son. A moment suspended in time, filled with peace and stillness. A moment of being fully present that made all the difference. A moment that reminded me that many a time nothing more is needed other than presence and love.
Reflecting too on how the week ended with the most difficult of conversations. One with a young mother facing possibly the death of both her son and her husband within the next six months. Both with cancer – bone and brain. Both, perhaps, with limited further treatment options, other than care, love, presence, and the attention of family, friends, and community. Noticing how when all the trappings of life fall away, very little is left behind. In these moments, the greatest gift is presence and kindness. The gift of being present with an open heart that holds all things, no matter how difficult, and that even here are moments of joy and laughter.
KINDNESS by Naomi Shihab Nye
Before you know what kindness really is, you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment , like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in you hand, what you counted and carefully saved, all this must go so you know how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness. How you ride and ride , thinking the bus will never stop. The passengers eating maize and chicken will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness, you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho lies dead by the side of the road. You must see how this could be you. How he too was someone who journeyed through the night with plans and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore. Only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread. Only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say ‘it is I you have been looking for’, and then goes with you everywhere like a shadow or a friend.