The farthest way

June 9th, 2008

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.


  1. I sent a link along to my family and friends, what an amazing thing to do – thank you!

    Comment by Catherine — June 9, 2008 @ 6:18 pm

  2. Yes. Thank you.

    Comment by Kristin H. — June 9, 2008 @ 8:08 pm

  3. This is lovely beyond words.

    Comment by Mama Zen — June 9, 2008 @ 9:27 pm

  4. thank you, karen. thank you for sharing this with us.

    Comment by Holly Lash — June 9, 2008 @ 11:40 pm

  5. Hi Karen, Next month please include June, August and November. Thank you so very much.

    Comment by RM — June 10, 2008 @ 12:44 am

  6. Would you include One and Two for me next time? I’ve been thinking of them a lot, and I would so much appreciate the recitation and recognizing of them.

    Comment by Anonymous — June 10, 2008 @ 4:45 am

  7. Thank you, Karen. Could you also include my lost three.

    Comment by She She — June 10, 2008 @ 1:23 pm

  8. What a wonderful thing to do. Please include Baby A, B, C and D. We thank you.

    Comment by Alice — June 10, 2008 @ 4:24 pm

  9. Important work you are doing, Karen. I actually came here to see if I could find some inspiration for my daughter, whose bird died…not the same, I know, but the same concept of transforming is a nice one to share with her.
    thank you.

    Comment by Shannon — June 10, 2008 @ 5:26 pm

  10. Sigh.

    Comment by Shelli — June 11, 2008 @ 12:03 am

  11. This is such a beautiful thing to do. How healing this can be.

    I live on a lake and anxiously await the heron’s visit each year. When I see them, it is totally a spiritual experience. Long life, I never knew.

    Comment by Eileen — June 11, 2008 @ 3:33 am

  12. A fish is transformed into a bird.


    In everything, there is no death, just transformation, and it can be a hard thing to bear.

    But perhaps something beautiful will be reborn.

    Comment by Rowena — June 12, 2008 @ 7:04 pm

  13. You’re writing transforms words into pictures… By the way I very much enjoy your book, I just got it in the mail last week and love it.

    Comment by Cat — February 3, 2009 @ 8:41 pm

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