Wednesday, September 14, 2016

September 14: End of Life, James Dickey, "The Heaven of Animals"

Last night, I had my students listen to an essay in which a mother is trying to explain death to her two-year-old daughter.  It was quite moving.  Then I had my students write about their beliefs about death.

Now, I know young people usually don't think about the end of life much.  They're too busy thinking about school and beer and pot and sex.  That's just where they are in their development.  However, when I asked some of them to share what they had written, I was a little surprised at the number of my students who simply don't believe in an afterlife.  As one of them so eloquently put it, "It's just the end."

Now, as a cradle Catholic, I grew up with pictures of angels in clouds, wings bright as a snow storm.  From the time I can remember, heaven was as real to me as Milky Way candy bars and my pet turtle Obi-Wan.  I never thought to question its existence.

Now, as an adult, my belief has been tempered by my many experiences with death.  In the past two years, as many of you know, I have seen two of my older siblings die.  And I would be lying if I didn't admit to doubts and questions.  The test of any strongly-held belief is being able to hold it up against strong interrogation.

I can still say today that I believe in heaven.  It's not the same heaven that I imagined as a child.  No clouds or harps or white robes or wings.  I know there is something beyond our existence.  Something where pain and loneliness and fear don't exist.  A better place.

That's what Saint Marty believes.  We are all destined for something better.

The Heaven of Animals

by:  James Dickey

Here they are. The soft eyes open.   
If they have lived in a wood
It is a wood.
If they have lived on plains
It is grass rolling
Under their feet forever.

Having no souls, they have come,   
Anyway, beyond their knowing.   
Their instincts wholly bloom   
And they rise.
The soft eyes open.

To match them, the landscape flowers,   
Outdoing, desperately
Outdoing what is required:
The richest wood,
The deepest field.

For some of these,
It could not be the place
It is, without blood.
These hunt, as they have done,
But with claws and teeth grown perfect,

More deadly than they can believe.   
They stalk more silently,
And crouch on the limbs of trees,   
And their descent
Upon the bright backs of their prey

May take years
In a sovereign floating of joy.   
And those that are hunted   
Know this as their life,
Their reward: to walk

Under such trees in full knowledge   
Of what is in glory above them,   
And to feel no fear,
But acceptance, compliance.   
Fulfilling themselves without pain

At the cycle’s center,
They tremble, they walk   
Under the tree,
They fall, they are torn,   
They rise, they walk again.

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