When death occurred to the child of Marpa, he cried so bitterly that his disciples flocked around him and asked, “Master, didn’t you say that the world is only an illusion? Why are you crying so brokenheartedly just because your son has died?” Marpa answered them, “Yes, everything is an illusion, but the death of a child is the greatest illusion of them all!”
Yesterday I stepped into the garden to do a little weeding before the afternoon memorial ceremony. I saw that a bird feather had fallen just feet away from the Jizo. I knew it wasn’t an accident. Minutes later my husband called to me from the far side of the house.
“The heron is here!”
I heard its sonic wingstroke, like the B-52 of bird flaps, and saw a broad shadow lifting.
Herons feed at our backyard ponds in the spring and fall, so a visit is not unusual, although this was an unusual time of year and time of day. And yet, given the day’s purpose, it was right on schedule. Herons are auspicious guests because they symbolize long life.
Awesomely elegant, herons are nonetheless enraging to us. We stand helpless to protect our fish from the birds’ appetites at dawn and dusk. The flick of the kitchen light in the early morning can trigger a sudden takeoff from waterside, and we’re left with the gut-puddling certainty that we’ve been robbed.
Herons symbolize long life, I wail, for everything but the fish!
I am ashamed to tell you how cruelly, how uselessly, we tried to fight back at the beginning. But that was before I saw what was really happening.
In an instant, you see, a fish is transformed into a bird. Released from one universe and reborn in another. Nothing is lost, but all is transformed. That’s the fact. It takes faith to see it.
The mourning couple brought flowers, pinecones, pictures, candy and tiny treasures to leave behind on our altar of impermanence, which is called the Earth. I gave them the feather to take home. It had drifted down from who knows where to the very place they stood.
And still, we sob.
All this week, and on the first Sunday of every month to come, I’ll be memorializing lost children and unborn babies in services in my garden. To include the name of a child, just leave a comment. All names and sentiments will be recited. Children from any faith tradition are lovingly included. And I thank you.