Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Graceful Decay

I pass each location on my bus route about 7 times a day, 5 days a week.

For more than a week now, I have been enchanted by a quiet, slow drama of nature. At the base of a particular pin oak tree, in a quiet shady neighborhood, I noticed a dead oppossum one day...probably roadkill. Around the bloated, bulging carcase, the first buds of some spring bulbs were beginning to open into pale blue bell-shaped flowers on short stalks.

Each day, the flowers are a little taller, showier, and more profuse. And each day the oppossum is a little flatter and more nestled among the growing grass and flowers. Today, I barely noticed it among the lovely clump of flowers.

Through past experience with dead animals, I can imagine the distinct smell I would smell if I were not far away in the bus. I know that if I were to take a stick and lift the carcase a bit from the ground, there would be a busy community of insects and other small creatures underneath, hastening to dismantle the carcase and recycle it. I know that in a week or two, if left undisturbed, there will be only some tufts of fur and some bones left to mark the oppossum's tranformation into spring flowers, lawn, insects, oak tree. The grass will begin to grow through the skeleton. The fur will be carried off to line some little bird's nest. Gradually the bones will leach their minerals back into the soil.

In the words of Julien of Norwich, "And all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well."

Through this graceful decay, many things will be well: The oppossum will be resurrected as an oak tree, as squirrels feeding from the oak; as grass, as rabbits feeding from the grass; as flowers, as children being delighted by the flowers; as a nest, as baby birds thriving in the nest. What a legacy for a humble, primitive creature like an oppossum!

It's a reminder to me that my own life affects the lives of those around me, and that influence ripples out far and wide to people I've never met. Hopefully my own legacy will be as life-giving as that of the oppossum.

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