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the dawn chorus

After this post, I promise to lighten up and return to the merry blogger of yore. It has been a particularly heavy week, with Irene’s death, Departures, my friend’s hospital visit in the chemo ward, my son with swine flu. Despite the beautiful weather, it’s November and nature is closing down.

A haunting “Lives Lived” column about the exemplary Muriel Duckworth, a family friend who died recently aged 100, appeared this week in the Globe. I was particularly moved by a moment that was so very Muriel, thoughtful, warm and compassionate to the end: just before she died, in hospital and fragile with a broken leg, she was clumsily moved by an inexperienced young nurse. She took the young woman’s hand and smiled. “And what is your name?” she asked.

I’ve been thinking of my dad, whose birthday is coming up – he would have been 87, a roaring lion still, I imagine, despite his age. He died at 65, only six years older than I am now. So death has been with me, this week. I’ve been thinking more than usual about how, at some point, we topple off the conveyor belt into the void. It’s all going to end, forever and ever. We agnostics and atheists don’t have a comforting belief in an after-life, “a better place,” “the other side.” What comforts me is my children; I will live on in them and in their children, and, hopefully, in my writing and the writing of my students and the hearts of my friends. But still, there’s the fear of that moment, the tumbling off into nothing – the dark and cold.
Early this morning, I lay in my bed listening to the dawn chorus. There’s a wall of thick ivy outside my bedroom window, and from about six a.m., for about an hour, all the birds who live there sing in unison. When my adolescent son lived in this room, he hated the tumult of the dawn chorus. I love it. There they all are, greeting the day and each other, until the moment when suddenly, by some signal, they all stop, and there’s silence. I lay in my warm bed listening to the birds, and at about 6.30 this morning, I decided not to worry about death.
When I was pregnant for the first time, there was a moment when I made the same kind of important decision. The birth was going to hurt, no doubt about that. Better just to relax and not think about the pain to come – to prepare, yes, but not to fret. A dramatic decision for a chronic worrier, an anxious “what if?” person like me. And the births of both my children were exceptionally fast. Painful, no doubt about that, but drug free and fast. Perhaps the fact that I was relatively relaxed had something to do with it.
Here, I thought this morning, are the gifts of this wondrous day – birds, a warm bed, the morning sky, the neighbour’s tree alight in the first rays of the sun. Here are family, friends, a sense of humour, a garden, a bicycle, the joys of writing, reading and teaching, walks in the sun and the rain, nice shoes that sometimes even fit. This crabby cat, still snoring beside me. Cheese.
All this. I will not have these things forever, but here they are now and I embrace them.
“And what is your name?” asked Muriel a few hours before she died, holding the nurse’s hand.



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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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