Salt, Light, and the Living

To honor the dead and the living, against despair.

underwater photography of ocean

Considering the permafrost, one doctor observes: we have melted back to the stone age, we are speeding back in time. He is speaking about the iceman that revealed himself recently in the melt: body the color of tea, his was probably a case of bleeding to death from a shoulder wound.

Another speaks of other findings: sights of the ancient massacres of whole villages; instruments of killing among the oldest known artifacts. There’s a puppy carcass too, believed to represent a link between dog and wolf, friend and killer. The Lena horse, the cave lion. Like a library on fire, says the doctor, regarding the impermanence of the freeze, how fast it melts. The point, he says, is to save what you can.

One gets so exhausted: the constant fire, the latest extinctions. There’s a question in this moment: how to resist despair without giving in to vapid, empty optimism? The doctor is silent, considering. Another speaks, slowly and deliberately–– of the stoics, how necessary their discipline is now: to meditate deeply on negative possibilities, to sit with the anxiety, the grief, the sense of relative powerlessness, and after sitting, resolve to act anyway on behalf of the living. It’s the only way, the doctor insists, to cope with the trial of the moment.

I am sitting with this today, and meanwhile, I am also aware that it is All Souls Day, and after dinner an old friend reminds me how the grandmothers would light a candle so that those who have died can return for a brief visit. They knew that in order for the dead to return with their animating force, they needed the strength of love and intention as a guide. One would also set out two small vessels: one of salt, one of water, to represent life and the meal we would make for them if they could join us at the table. On this day, they would come, leaving their love and blessings, and taking many of our troubles with them. They are also able to have some communion with us, when the veil between the worlds is thin. 

While nothing like the stoicism that the doctor shared, this reminder rings harmonious to my weary ears, relieved to be called back to the quiet, steadfast patience of these grandmothers. The responsibility to the living requires us to keep going, and our responsibility to the dead demands that we tend a tiny flame and these small vessels, because what is nourished will grow, and this, even now, is still a meaningful choice.  

***

Inspirations

I was reading about the permafrost melt this morning (In The New York TimesAs Earth Warms, Old Mayhem and Secrets Emerge from The Ice, and As Earth Warms, the Diseases that May Lie Within Permafrost Become a Bigger Worry. Later, I came across this article (from Columbia Climate School) about the need for Climate Stoicism, and hours after that a friend returned me to certain Irish traditions for celebrating All Souls Day.

Author: Stacey C. Johnson

I am here to wonder out loud. The point is not to get a clear answer, a complete picture, but to remember how incomplete the picture is, to embrace the process once again, of discovery, of questions, to notice the stirrings of wonder. To leave crumbs behind, for the next traveler.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: