Today I had a pleasant surprise. Walking the dog deep in the woods today, life surprised me by placing my hand briefly in the hand of death. It was so easy, so gentle, so much like breathing, rising and falling, nothing to it. No, it wasn’t a bear or a cougar, it wasn’t falling down and hitting my head, it was more gentle than that.
I had eaten an early breakfast, very early, then forgot to eat again as the day wore on. About six hours later I had a strong cup of regular coffee at my neighbour’s kitchen table, during which they gave me a big plate of home-made meatloaf with gravy for my dinner tonight. I came home, put the plate of meatloaf in the fridge and went out with the dog, heading for the deep autumnal woods, where the stuff of fairyland rules.
Piles of leaves underfoot, all copper colored, ferns heavy with rain alongside the mulchy path, trees of great age and height towering above us, drawing the awe-struck eye upward and upward, till you have to stop walking and stand still or you fall over looking up. “Craning the neck”, they call it. Mincing my way carefully down the slippery, leaf-covered hilly parts, making sure I don’t slip on a wet pine cone placed strategically on the hilly bit to catch the unwary dog-walker.
At times I wish my feet were shaped like Rainbow’s, delicate and dainty, unlikely to slip on very much at all. Past the freshly topped-up creek, tumbling along with brackish brown water mixed with sparkly white little tumble-tops, my shoes getting wet. Then turn onto the path to the Eleventh Avenue exit, into one of those forested paths where fairies have GOT to be living, ferns waving their long fronds as far as the eye can see, like The Lost World.
Ancient trees, touching the clouds, slivers of autumn sun slanting here and there, lighting up the moss, the indescribably pleasing effect of autumn light mixed with the after-effects of clean, coastal showers.
And suddenly I felt strangely light headed. The dogs had gone ahead, snuffling at every thing in sight, happy beyond words. I walked on, aware that I felt odd. The lightness in the recesses of my brain increased but yet I felt fine. My consciousness was complete, unhindered, I was fully present, yet I was somehow fading. I wondered, Am I having one of those painless, sudden heart attacks? I wondered in a vague, unconcerned, yet interested kind of way.
I knew I must keep walking, Eleventh was not that far off, I could probably make it all right, where there were houses and people. The dogs were around the corner, out of sight. I was quite alone. The trees, the sunlight, the ferns, the old broken logs, and most likely a sleeping bear or two in the salal bushes nearby, these were my companions as I stumbled along, my shoes catching on the ground as it became harder to keep walking.
I knew I couldn’t go much further, yet my consciousness felt fine, complete. I was fully present, yet I realized I was fading, about to enter some kind of coma-state. I had no idea what was wrong.
So this is dying, I thought. I am so accompanied, I am not alone, it is not scary, I am at such peace, here in these woods. A small mossy log lay across the path, and I slowly settled myself onto its wet, soggy back. It was too low down for comfort, but it kept me from falling onto the earth.
The dogs came back, concerned, I patted them, settled down on the log. I might fall over in a minute, and I thought, I think I am dying. It must be my heart. I was so grateful, so glad, it was all over and ending in this beautiful place, so quiet, so sun-dappled, so gentle.
I said calmly to my Angels, What should I do? The answer whispered back softly, unconcerned: Eat some of your peppermints.
Oh, yes, the mints! Of course! I am having a low blood sugar attack. Then I remembered, the early breakfast, the strong coffee, and of course it hit my blood sugar. I had forgotten to eat for about…what…seven or more hours? Not good. I don’t have diabetes, but everyone needs blood sugar, or the brain gives up the ghost. It doesn’t take long!
With great difficulty, I opened the plastic bag of mints and groped inside for two or three, popped them in my mouth and sat there, getting wetter by the minute, enjoying the sugary taste and the knowledge that my Angels were, as always, right beside me at all times.
After about ten minutes, during which the dogs kept licking my face and and looking anxious, I slowly, very slowly, got up from the log and started walking. Slowly, laboriously. I was three blocks from home and it felt like a long way, but I felt very calm. Soon there were houses and people, and I knew I was fine. I would not die today.
But if I had no candies with me, and some other day, forgot to eat for half a day, and went deep into the woods, having drunk strong coffee, what then? Who would find me in time?
Death is not so hard to find. It is always close at hand. Don’t be going looking for it. Our angels know when to place our hand in the hand of Death, and when they do, we have their presence close by.
I went home and, realizing the terrible twins had been rolling in something disgusting while I was busy fading away there, gave the dogs a bath, which they hated, turned the heat up full in the house to dry them off and crawled into bed with a plate of meatloaf and gravy and ketchup…and someone else cooked it. What more could I ask?